Some were liberal, others were conservative. Some dislike light rail, others pollution. But the 15 speakers gathered near the Interstate 5 Bridge Thursday morning had one thing in common: Their concerns about the spending on the Columbia River Crossing.
Made up of Oregon legislators, an Oregon Metro councilor, local business owners, real estate agents and more, the “Smarter Bridge Committee” held a press conference calling for a halt to any further funding for planning until it’s clear the states and federal government can even pay for the $3.5 billion project.
About 10 supporters also stood in the morning chill, at the Vancouver Landing along the Columbia River.
“We come from disparate kinds of views about the Columbia River Crossing, but we’re united in one thing — the current direction governmental systems are going is incorrect and needs to be changed,” said Oregon Metro Councilor Carl Hosticka, who emceed the event. “Please stop the bleeding.”
Hosticka, who falls on the liberal side of the spectrum, later introduced John Charles of the Cascade Policy Institute, the largely libertarian think tank that is often critical of Metro’s policies.
Charles said he’d prefer to see plans for a light-rail extension from Portland to Clark College eliminated from the plans than see the CRC go forward as-is. Trains, he said, will take an average of 38 minutes to reach downtown Portland, while C-Tran’s current express buses do it in an average of 18 minutes.
“If the goal here is to improve transit, this does the opposite,” he said.
The only speaker from Vancouver was forensic accountant Tiffany Couch, who called the project’s accounting transactions and processes into question. She said she’s seen problems significant enough that the Oregon and Washington legislatures should take action and investigate.
“We need to stop and call a timeout on this project before billions of taxpayer dollars have been spent,” Couch said.
Vancouver’s newest city councilor, Bill Turlay, was also scheduled to speak, but was not at the event.
Also on hand were Oregon Reps. Lew Frederick, D-Portland, and Mitch Greenlick, D-Portland, who said they both stand against current plans. They are part of a governing body that, along with the Washington Legislature, will have to approve $450 million in funding for the CRC to be built.
“There are lots of good alternatives,” Greenlick said. “You’ve heard about a bridge to nowhere, this is a bridge project to nowhere.”
After the conference, Frederick said he wasn’t surprised that planning costs have topped $140 million, as the project is a monumentally large one.
“I don’t have problems with them spending money to listen to people,” he said. “They just didn’t listen.”
Former Metro President candidate Bob Stacey, Plaid Pantry CEO Chris Girard and economist Joe Cortright also spoke.
Cortright, a sharp critic of the financing and traffic forecasting plans, said that everyone is arriving on the same page: After seven years and more than $140 million in spending, the “CRC still lacks a solid financial plan.”
Hosticka, the Metro councilor, pointed out the legislatures have yet to give approval, the Oregon treasurer has raised serious alarms about tolling revenue shortfalls and the federal transit fund is seriously depleted and does not look like it will be renewed soon.
“It’s not a financially viable project,” Cortright said.