Anti-tolling activist David Madore brought a bar chart mounted on a big board to Monday’s House Transportation session. He wanted to compare the projected cost of the Columbia River Crossing — the current estimated price tag for the bridge, highway interchanges and light rail range from $3.2 billion to $3.6 billion — with the $240 million cost of the Hoover Dam Bypass, a new 3.5-mile corridor that crosses the Colorado River, connecting Nevada and Arizona.
“How has this project ballooned to such a monstrous cost?” he asked committee Chairman John Mica, R-Fla.
“We’re going to force you to buy something that you can’t afford, that you don’t want,” he declared. “The government is dictating to us what we are going to get.”
Mica wasn’t interested in Madore’s bar chart.
“Is there an alternative to pay for the project?” he asked. “Is there a financial plan that you propose?”
Madore, who contributed nearly $200,000 last year to legislative and local government candidates opposed to tolls on a new bridge, also wanted to know why, in his view, ordinary citizens and business leaders weren’t included among the decision-makers on the project and its funding. The elected officials involved, he said, “could be affected by outside money.”
“How would you structure it?” Mica asked. “How do we craft a process?”
“Start with a vote,” Madore said.
Madore’s time was up.
Michael Ennis of the conservative Washington Policy Institute wanted to know why the Columbia River Crossing couldn’t be built for $300 million in 437 days, like the replacement for the Minneapolis interstate freeway bridge that collapsed into the Mississippi River on Aug. 1, 2007.
“I don’t know why it takes over two decades for us to build a bridge over the Columbia River,” he said.
Ennis claimed that only 3 to 10 percent of those who travel over the new bridge will use light rail, and said that group is already served by bus lines.
Mica wasn’t interested. He moved on.
Those who hoped to deliver an anti-tolling, anti-light rail message to Congress were mostly out of luck Monday.
At the end of the listening session, Mica made amends — sort of. “I hope I haven’t offended anyone,” he said. “I’m not taking sides in your local transportation disputes. I’ve got to find out what drove the cost (of the Columbia River Crossing) to $4 billion … We have to bail this country out.”
Sen. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., told the audience not to take Mica’s brusque style personally.
“I feel very confident that we are going to do something for Washington in the House of Representatives,” he said. And be assured, he said, that Mica has run all his listening sessions with gavel in hand.
“Everyone in Ohio and Indiana was offended, too.”