The "Columbia River Crossing" (CRC) bureaucrats and planners have spent ten years and north of $165 million designing a replacement for the present I-5 bridges over the Columbia River, and have insisted upon including $1.5 billion worth of light rail in the design despite the fact that opposition is strong in Clark County, Washington and elsewhere. In addition, TriMet is running itself into the ground as it is, and they really can't afford to ram another light rail line down the throats of an unwilling populace.
As TriMet's general manager, Neal McFarlane, noted immediately prior to scraping together nearly $1 million in order to give himself and 49 other "managers" pay raises recently, the agency is in dire financial straits. None of that really matters to the brain-trust at CRC. They presented an application for permit to the U.S. Coast Guard to construct a new bridge with only 95 feet of clearance above river level, and were stunned when the USCG rejected the design.
CRC claimed that they thought a deal had been made for a low-clearance bridge, although documents indicate that USCG made it abundantly clear that river traffic, including U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredging equipment as well as commercial traffic, required substantially higher clearances. Why, then, did CRC propose to build a structure with lower clearance?
The answer lies in two words: light rail. That is exactly the reason why the new "transit and pedestrian bridge" under construction over the Willamette River is the lowest of any bridge along the river - steel wheels on steel rails simply cannot climb significant gradients, even in dry weather. Building the CRC with higher clearances would require adding lengthy ramp extensions on both sides of the river in order to accommodate light rail; the line would likely overshoot downtown Vancouver entirely on the Washington side, and would negatively impact their planned extension of the yellow line from its present terminus at Portland Expo Center as well.
Faced with rejection, the CRC brain-trust redesigned their bridge, adding eleven feet to the height - a 116-foot clearance. They applied again for a permit in January; essentially daring the USCG to reject it again.
They just did:
Now comes the Coast Guard’s response: The application isn’t even close to being adequate—it’s full of holes and incomplete answers.
The letter, sent March 8 to the directors of Oregon and Washington’s departments of transportation, guarantees even more delays in the project, which is trying to get the bridge height approved by Sept. 30. Meanwhile, the CRC project burns through money—$2.9 million alone in December, according to project documents.
The Coast Guard letter cites three major flaws in the CRC’s application. But the most glaring oversight is the CRC’s failure to fully evaluate the biggest issue involving the bridge height: the number of jobs it would put in jeopardy.
Oddly, the media cheerleaders at The Oregonian, who favor the CRC with light rail, have yet to report on the latest slapdown, apart from a note yesterday that the USCG "needs more information". Willamette Week has the story.
Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber assured a legislative committee Feb. 11 the CRC has been “studied and analyzed and restudied and reanalyzed. The result is a project that’s ready to be built."
The Democrat-controlled Oregon state legislature passed a bill to spend $450 million (that the state doesn't have) to get the project going, in light of the rosy report issued by the governor and other long-time FONs (Friends of Neil) such as undeclared and illegal lobbyist Patricia McCaig. Fortunately, the $450 outlay depends upon several caveats; among them that the issue of bridge clearance be resolved (it isn't) and that the Washington state legislature pony up an identical sum this year (which appears unlikely).