Political voices on both sides of the Columbia River are striking a positive tone and avoiding past battles as they launch a second effort to replace the Interstate 5 Bridge.
Lurking beneath the veneer of tranquility are the same issues that polarized the region a decade ago: opposition to tolling, hostility toward light rail, support for a third Columbia River bridge, concerns about climate change, and a sneaking suspicion this $3 billion-plus megaproject will cost too much and deliver too little.
Nearly $200 million was spent on the Columbia River Crossing. The project achieved important milestones, including the federal government’s December 2011 decision that it had met the National Environmental Policy Act’s stringent provisions. Eighteen months later, the project fell apart when the Washington Senate failed to match Oregon’s $450 million contribution to launch construction.
The size and complexity of such a massive project can lead to its downfall.
“Most megaprojects don’t succeed,” said Aaron Shenhar, an international expert on project management and CEO of The SPLWIN Group in Verona, N.J. “If anybody starts a megaproject today, they must realize that their chances for success are as good as the statistics.”
Officials are optimistic a new set of local and state political leaders, coupled with mounting frustration over daily traffic jams and the potential to substitute bus rapid transit for light rail, will make the project’s reboot successful.
“We can’t be pussyfooting around,” Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle said. “Let’s get serious and get this done.”
Some in the business community perceived the Columbia River Crossing as a government project that naturally would get built, McEnerny-Ogle said, and stayed on the sidelines.
“It was a surprise to many that it didn’t happen, so we now have all hands on deck,” she said. “They are all jumping in to talk and to work and to educate their folks on why it’s important.”
McEnerny-Ogle, who led an apology tour to get Oregon re-engaged following the Washington Senate’s inaction six years ago, has worked to overcome reluctance from those who still feel burned by the Columbia River Crossing’s demise.
Some are reluctant to dissect past failures and discuss what was learned.
Kris Strickler, who last month was named Oregon transportation director pending Senate confirmation, worked on the Columbia River Crossing. In an internal Oregon Department of Transportation interview posted on YouTube, Strickler said there are aspects of that project he would handle differently. Instead of discussing lessons learned, he talked about the need for “jurisdictional and stakeholder input” to help define what didn’t go well.