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Environmental Studies

A Bridge to the Twentieth Century: Megaproject Technocracy and the Columbia River Crossing

Introduction

Who are the actors involved?

The Future of the CRC
References & Links


Comments & questions to:
ambrown@macalester.edu


A Bridge to the Twentieth Century: Megaproject Technocracy and the Columbia River Crossing
Caught Up in the Mess: Local Politicians Either Hopeless or Irrelevant (so far)



    To understand the political dynamic that is shaping this project, it is helpful to compare the state-level planning for the project with the articulated responses against this bridge posited by politicians responding to constituent concerns at a local level. Metro, the unique regional government of the Portland area directly elected by the tri-county region, is an influential entity that plans longterm land use and transportation projects across the country. This year represents the first contested election for the President of the Metro Council in recent memory, and support or opposition for the Columbia River Crossing looks to be a significant issue in the election.



Frustrated by the lack of public input in the process and the ability for the region to dictate what parameters of the facility should be considered, in April Councilor Robert Liberty published a statement outright asking local residents to submit their own ideas for the design.

“Many such proposals have been offered by thoughtful citizens in Oregon and Washington, including interesting mixes of upgrades or repurposing the existing bridges, supplemental lanes for local or freeway traffic, pricing to pre-pay for improvements and reduce congestion immediately, improvements to the downstream rail bridge to enhance barge movement and perhaps allow for commuter rail connections, and many, many others. The DOTs weren't interested in hearing those ideas. I am.”

The ability of a Metro Councilor to garner possible alternatives to the project by soliciting “one page memos” from citizens may seem absurd, but in context it represents the exasperation of local officials who feel that alternatives to this project as it is currently conceived have not yet been adequately studied.

While Portland and Vancouver politicians have significantly different visions for the ultimate form of the facility (and, in particular, the provisions for tolls, which angers the largely commuter-based Vancouverites unwilling to pay a toll), a coalition of local political leaders including Mayor Sam Adams of Portland and recently-elected Mayor Tim Leavitt of Vancouver last January voiced concern that the implementation of the CRC was being conducted by state officials and that local agencies have not been given proper authority over the planning for a project that will bring significant, localized impacts to their representative communities. The letter noted that “We believe that cost, physical and environmental elements of the project as currently proposed impose unacceptable impacts on our communities.” The letter of response from the two state governments applauded local involvement in the process but ultimately took a firm stance that the project should not be delayed nor significantly changed; one journalist frustratingly noted that the letter of response essentially stated “we value your advisory role and therefore we're going to do the EXACT OPPOSITE of what you advise us to do.”

At the aforementioned panel, one community activist noted:

“There’s a great contradiction in this public project. There have been hundreds or thousands of public meetings. There have been, you know, enough meeting notes to fill this big room. There are a lot of different citizen groups ranging from pedestrian groups to bicycle groups to people that are interested in sustainability, neighborhood groups, all kinds of groups have met with the CRC staff, who have diligently trying to understand the concerns of these groups. But what each of these groups…has seen before them is a kind of narrow path…and we’ve all simply been asked to react to it..” (Ed Carpenter, PDXlore Event)


While state-level politicians and agencies have been attempting to steamroll this project to completion, it appears that local politicians are beginning to aggressively assert their claim to represent their constituents.  As a proponent of community planning, I find it reassuring that politicians at more localized level of governance are beginning to demand the ability to represent their constituents.

















Photo on the I5 Span, photo credit J-and-P


























































"The DOTs weren't interested in hearing those ideas. I am.”

-Robert Liberty















"we value your advisory role and therefore we're going to do the EXACT OPPOSITE of what you advise us to do.”







But what each of these groups…has seen before them is a kind of narrow path…and we’ve all simply been asked to react to it.”













Last updated:  3rd May 2010

 



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