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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
Intent of Project / Purpose of this Website
This website was created for Professor Roopali Phadke's Citizenship and Science course, in which we explored the role of science in informing public debate and the role that democracy and the body politic have to play in the participation of science inquiry. As a Geography Major and an Urban Studies Concentrator, I decided it'd be interesting to ask these questions in relation to a specific political controversy currently happening in my hometown of Portland, Oregon. I've been following the discussions about the Columbia River Crossing for over two years, and as someone who is passionate about studying local governance, transportation infrastructure, urban form and how these concepts relate to social justice and sustainability, I am excited to reframe the history and current struggles over this project within the context of the questions that we've asked within our course.  

Urban and Regional Planning is as much of a "science" as many of the other disciplines discussed by my peers, and because the ramifications of their decisions are so literally writ onto our urban landscape, it is easy to see how decisions made in the name of "science" can significantly impact our community. This website points out the necessity of public participation in this science, and the importance of making sure the values espoused by our governmental transportation planners are aligned with the concerns of the community they claim to work for. Transportation planning over the last half-century has been almost entirely dominated by technocratic, transportation engineers who are able to circumvent traditional democratic methods of decision-making through the utilization of scientifically-based modeling and close ties to governing agencies, and this website examines the potential implementation of the CRC as a case study to determine how this model holds up in a progressive, democratically-engaged, planning-conscious region.

This website uses the history and current political controversy surrounding the construction of this facility as a case study to explore how the technical implementation of infrastructure megaprojects is (or isn’t) influenced by interscalar democratic political systems. By exploring all of the current stakeholders in the debate, ranging from political organizations such as state-level departments of transportation and local municipalities to private interests including local businesses, unions and nearby residents we can see how each of these entities utilize their relative political muscle to advocate for their ideal version of the facility and what forms of knowledge are employed by each actor in their articulation of their position.

I make no attempt to hide my criticisms of both the political process which has guided the planning for this megaproject nor the currently discussed plans intended for implementation in the years ahead. By discussing these issues in the context of the topics of this course, I hope to provide a starting point for discussion about possible solutions to this potential asphalt monstrosity; how has science been used to support/critique this project? Who is funding the "science" used to implement the Columbia River Crossing? What is the role of a transportation technocrat in designing these projects? Whose voices and "expertises" count in the discussion, and on what forms of science are these types of knowledge based?

Last updated:  3rd May 2010


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