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Environmental Studies

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


Who are the actors involved?

The Future of the CRC
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A Bridge to the Twentieth Century: Megaproject Technocracy and the Columbia River Crossing
The Media: How is Science/CRC Represented to the Body Politic?
To understand any political controversy it is important to understand what information about the conflict is processed and presented to the electorate, and through which forms. Therefore, I find it necessary to discuss the role that media, both monolithic traditional institutions and smaller scale, internet-based opinion pieces, have played in presenting a particular vision of the project.  As posited by urban theorists Logan and Molotch (1987), local newspapers have an inherent interest in the economic growth of the region; their own success as a business depends upon an economically healthy region. This assertion that media organizations are inherently interested in a particular future for the population they serve suggests that their reporting, editorials, and coverage might skew towards promoting particular paradigms of economic growth.

Given the previously discussed naturalized discourse that interstate projects are inherently positive contributors towards a localized economy, The Oregonian has remained a staunch advocate for the entire reconstruction of the crossing. The Oregonian’s advocacy for a large bridge also supports the provision of proper mass transit and bicycling facilities, but the paper has been largely uncritical about the process through which the plan was conceived because of its inherent interest in seeing the swift implementation as necessary for the economic health of the region.

Smaller scale media by both progressive alt-weekly sources and individuals producing their own content have significantly contributed to the contours of the debate as well. Reporters at alt-weeklies such as The Portland Mercury and Willamette Week and popular internet news sites such as have given significant coverage towards protests, activists and others who have spoke out against the current plans, generally offering a more nuanced, critical stance towards the project.

The internet has also provided community activists with an incredible platform to circumvent the traditional media gatekeepers; websites such as and created by community activists have begun to specifically rally around alternative projects that could be empirically studied and compared to the current list of alternatives. The usage of these spaces to promote alternative solutions to the congestion along the corridor and to minimize the negative impact of the CRC as proposed represents a potentially profound change in the spaces of engagement. Remarkable examples include activist Nick Faldo’s excellent technical compilation of CRC Alternatives...

Columbia River Crossing : Alternatives from Nick Falbo on Vimeo.’s overview of the lack of local authority of the project...
and activist Dan Kaufman’s humorous “Have we got a bridge to sell you!”
After the release of the DEIS, Amy Ruiz of The Portland Mercury wrote in 2008 one of the first critical editorials in widely-circulated media, critiquing the project as it stood:

“The problem is, no one has bothered to study what happens if we do the things that deter people from crossing the bridge in the first place. Ideas that would give commuters an alternative, but don't make driving an easier choice. In other words, could we reduce traffic by 20 percent today by building light rail to Vancouver, and tolling the bridge now, without spending billions of dollars on a new, bigger bridge? Instead of giving Vancouver drivers a continued excuse to drive their single-occupancy vehicle into Oregon every day, why not give them reasons to leave the car at home? But that option's not on the table. What the hell are we thinking?”

One transportation planner noted it was remarkable that, given the vast disparity between the $100 million megaphone used by the state and the meager funds of coordinated activists, that any dissent at all against the project has been mobilized and is slowly starting to gain legitimacy  (Robert Campbell, PDXplore). Yet despite these well-polished efforts that poke holes in the methodology of planning for this project, only the ultimate outcome of the CRC will determine exactly how effective this online-mobilization has been at shifting the course of the debate.

I include this discussion about the role of the media because it remains the most important link between the politicians and technocratic planners currently making the decisions about this project and the citizens who they claim to serve. The role of investigative journalism is all the more important when one considers the considerable megaphone that ODOT and bridge advocates carry; not only do transportation engineers carry the hegemonic discourse that "more highways are better" and the claim of technocratic expertise in knowing how to plan for future growth, but the significant financial help from the state government to advertise and effectively mute debate about the project make these counter-arguement media forms all the more important toward creating a space for habermasian discourse. 

"The problem is, no one has bothered to study what happens if we do the things that deter people from crossing the bridge in the first place."

Last updated:  3rd May 2010


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