On a frigid morning at the Vancouver Landing amphitheater there was crisp criticism of the current Columbia River Crossing Light project (CRC) from representatives of the Smarter Bridge Committee, a group that rejects the current CRC project as designed.

Opponents of the CRC project rallied today at Vancouver Landing Park.

Estimated to cost up to $10 billion* (including debt service), the massive highway, bridge, and light rail project will replace the current Interstate Bridges with two new spans, rebuild five highway interchanges, and deliver light rail across the Columbia River into downtown Vancouver.

The 15 speakers today represented an impressive cross-section of backgrounds, from Oregon state Rep. Mitch Greenlick to Evan Manvel from the Coalition for a Livable Future to John Charles of the Cascade Policy Institute.

Speaker after speaker succinctly laid down the case that there is time to suspend the current CRC project and consider other alternatives so that the region can get it right.

“The current finance plan is a disaster waiting to happen,” said Chris Girard, CEO of Plaid Pantry.

Tiffany Couch, a forensic auditor who has uncovered significant questionable accounting transactions and practices as they relate to the CRC, said “these are significant enough for legislators and other officials in Oregon and Washington to take notice of and investigate further.”

Portland economist Joe Cortright warns of the potential $10 billion burden that the CRC could put on taxpayers, including cost overruns and debt service.

Portland economist Joe Cortright noted that the bridge project would put a $10 billion burden on the region for the next 30 years, when debt service and potential overruns are factored in.

Others commented on the failure to alleviate congestion. Bob Stacey of 1000 Friends of Oregon said that when CRC opens the area will have the same bottleneck on Interstate 5 that there is now.

To make matters worse, the light rail – which is advocated by Portland Mayor Sam Adams as being essential to any bridge – actually makes commute times worse for Vancouver citizens who currently use C-Tran express buses. Finally, according to retired transportation engineer Gerald Fox the CRC project may create jobs, but it will also take others by destroying local business in its path.

Perhaps these problems have much to do with Evan Manvel’s observation that the CRC design is a “homage to the 1950s…a highway mega project that we could have designed a long time ago before generations of knowledge taught us how to do better.”

This public kick-off event and press conference represents the beginning of an effort to take the message to Washington and Oregon legislators and other interested parties to stop the trajectory of the CRC.

As Oregon state Rep. Mitch Greenlick jokingly said, “Is the current plan going to happen? It cannot possibly happen and if it can’t possibly happen, it’s not likely to.”

“We need to start dealing with some of the alternatives that actually could work. Stop the direction we are going in.”

* 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.

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