Shumway neighborhood resident Liz Shaub is living in limbo.

Her home on East 35th and I Street in Vancouver stands in the path of a proposed expansion of Interstate 5 as part of the $10 billion* Columbia River Crossing (CRC) light rail and bridge project.

Neighbors come together to protect their community from the CRC Light Rail project
Shumway neighborhood residents feel in limbo over the possible impacts of Columbia River Crossing construction.

The CRC not only includes designs for a new bridge to replace the current Interstate Bridge, but also the expansion of light rail from North Portland to Vancouver, and highway construction stretching as far into Vancouver as the intersection of State Route 500 and I-5, a stone’s throw from where Shaub, 46, resides with her husband Dan, 44, and son, Brody, 17.

As proposed in the CRC Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), overall construction won’t start until 2013 and could last up to seven years. And there’s no telling how long it would take CRC officials to begin purchasing property in the Shumway Neighborhood.

In the meantime, the Shaubs are stuck with a house that was supposed to be their retirement home, but is now on borrowed time. They would rather sell as soon as possible and get on with their lives.

“I want them to say, ‘Liz, we’re taking your house, we’re going to take it in this amount of time,’” Shaub said. “Fine. I’ll sell my home and move.”

Liz Schaub makes a point while Phyllis Voeller listens

Liz Schaub makes a point while Phyllis Voeller listens.

CRC spokesperson Anne Pressentin says work began in 2007 to initially alert impacted property owners, first by letter and then through numerous community meetings and conversations with CRC staff. What has remained elusive, however, is a firm schedule for when the CRC would begin appraising properties and negotiating sales agreements with home owners.

Pressentin says the CRC won’t acquire property unless absolutely necessary. She pointed out that a considerable amount of design work remains for the overall project and that financing can’t be secured until the federal government signs off on the plan.

As for people whose homes or businesses are identified for permanent acquisition in the FEIS, there’s no way to provide the timeline they seek.

“We would like to give people a certain date, but unfortunately we can’t do that now,” Pressentin said.

For a time, Shumway resident Phyllis Voeller, 78, was told her home on H Street might be acquired, but now her home is off the list. She sees that as lost time she could have spent looking for a different home, not knowing how close her current home will be to the extended highway. Now she wonders if she has the energy for such a move.

Cecil Tuttle

Cecil Tuttle

“I don’t need a [different] house now,” said Voeller, who has lived in her home for 20 years. “At 78, I’m going to be 90 by the time they get done.”

Shumway resident Cecil Tuttle (who died unexpectedly of a heart attack four days after being interviewed for this story) said not knowing how his property on I Street would be impacted by the CRC construction discouraged him from remodeling his three-bedroom home, which he and his wife, Carol, 67, had shared for 30 years. The home was built in the 1930s.

As it turns out, the FEIS lists the Tuttles’ property as needed for a temporary construction easement, not acquisition.

“I haven’t remodeled the bathrooms,” said Tuttle, 69. “I’ve replaced a few windows. We’ve let our decks go. Normally we maintain them. We’ve just neglected remodeling the house.”

Tuttle said he didn’t trust that any money he put into his house would automatically increase the value of his home in the eyes of an appraiser. If he knew his house would be spared, he would have put more effort into it, especially when he was in his early 60’s and had a little more energy.

Jim Brown and Ramona Leon listen to the discussion about their neighborhood

Jim Brown and Ramona Leon listen to the discussion about their neighborhood

“They have kind of held us hostage,” said Tuttle, who worked as the administrator at the Pythian Retirement Center in Vancouver. “What do I do? I can’t sell my house. I have been notified that my house will be impacted or taken. But they don’t tell you which. I’ve wanted to ask, ‘I don’t care if you’re taking me or not, I just need to know.’”

It’s too late for Shaub to put off remodeling, however. The former Army intelligence officer and her husband spent $15,000 on a kitchen remodel in 2005. But they won’t fix their broken hot tub, even though Shaub used it therapeutically for an old back injury. She can only hope the rest of the house holds up better than the hot tub.

“I didn’t fix it because they are just going to demolish it anyway,” she said.

* The well-documented cost to taxpayers, if the CRC stays on budget, is $10 billion. This was established by the Cortright Report (PDF) which used data from an independent review panel hired by the governors of Washington and Oregon. (View the panel’s final report.)

See our continuing coverage of the Columbia River Crossing Light Rail project.

Do you have information to share on the CRC? To respond anonymously call 260-816-1426. To allow your comments to be used on COUV.COM call 260-816-1429.