Who Killed the CRC?
Now that the Washington Legislature has adjourned without approving a transportation package, and Oregon Governor Kitzhaber has pronounced the CRC “dead,” project opponents are rushing to the blogosphere to take credit for derailing the Columbia River Crossing project. Developed over the last 12 years, with numerous high level advisory committees (including the one I served on with 29 members), the proposal tried to balance concerns about traffic, safety, aging bridges and provide missing transportation choices in this heavily used corridor.
Like all such compromises, the design was admittedly an ugly duckling, but it included only modest expansion for motor vehicle capacity (the existing 3 through lanes in both directions were retained on the Oregon side). It also would have made the first light rail link into Clark County, home to almost half a million, as well as made cycling and walking over the Columbia a pleasure instead of daunting trial. Last minute objections to the clearance for river traffic rang a little hollow when it was revealed that the main objector leased their manufacturing site in 2010, well after the design had been adopted.
Support for the project was broad, with 27 of 29 members of the Task Force I served on voting in favor of the design and with heavy lifting by US Senator Patty Murray (D-WA). Every government body on both sides of the river also voted in favor. The opposition was a strange mixture of Washington-based conservatives vehemently opposed to light rail coming into Vancouver, WA and Oregon environmentalists who cast the project as a major freeway expansion and conflated their opposition with the fight against the Mt. Hood Expressway that was cancelled in the 1970s. Oregon opponents demonized Washington commuters just as the SW Washington anti-light rail advocates went on about the “crime train.”
With 1 million more people expected to be living in this region in 20 years (possibly double that if we see more refugees from climate change caused weather in the US–as I write this, it is 119 degrees Farenheit in Phoenix), we will need additional capacity across the Columbia River to connect a vibrant Vancouver with the rest of the region. Building a third bridge elsewhere will face even greater hurdles. Prospects for lining up all the moving parts again for another run at the CRC will be very difficult.