Tolls now, new bridge later?
The absurd saga of the new I-5 bridge between Portland and the 'Couv took a turn for the even weirder yesterday, as Oregon Treasurer Ted Wheeler bluntly pointed out that the people who were projecting the toll revenues from the new span must have been eating hallucinogenic mushrooms. This means that there's no way they'll be able to sell bonds to build the thing unless they come up with a different bridge, a different financing plan, or both.
At this point, the biggest challenge may be figuring out who "they" are. All sorts of face cards are talking about what's supposed to happen, but it's not clear exactly who, if anybody, is in charge.
A funny moment came in the afternoon, when Governor Rerun cleared his throat and remarked that "it is time to start planning for a project that adapts to the available resources and fits into today’s economic reality." John, old buddy -- start planning? The taxpayers have already blown $130 million on "planning" this project. And that's before we "start"?
And the guv is talking about "phased" construction now. That's when you start building something before you let on how you're going to pay for it. Once you get it a quarter of the way built, you tell the public "It's too late to turn back now," and force them to pay through the nose for something that they wouldn't have wanted if they knew what it would cost them. They're doing that with the delusional Tri-Met Mystery Train to Milwaukie, and now the technique will also be applied to the I-5 bridge.
The hilarity continues with the dance that's being done along the political third rail of the project: tolls. There's always been a plan to put tolls on the new bridge, but given Wheeler's inconvenient truth of yesterday, the rumblings have suddenly begun for tolling the existing I-5 bridge now (and probably I-205, too), in order to rake in some immediate cash and get the pork flow started to the construction contractors.
New tolls on old bridges? We double-dog dare them to try that one. It's recall territory. But you can almost see the politicians racking their brains trying to figure out how to get advance tolling started without any of them actually looking like they're the ones imposing it. Should be fun to watch.
Also interesting is Willy Week's attitude on the story. They were all "BREAKING NEWS," stop the presses, on the Wheeler angle. It's obvious they don't think the bridge is a good idea, and they've sent the best reporter in town, Nigel Jaquiss, out to kill it. Now they're up on a high horse about the problems with the funding plan, but you don't see much ALL CAPS from them on the Milwaukie MAX project, which also has big funding holes and doesn't even have a proven commuter base.
And they're wrong about the I-5 bridge. Of course, it needs to be replaced. To still have a drawbridge going up and down on a heavily used interstate freeway is so utterly 1952. But this being Portland, Oregon, any transportation project has got to be thoroughly Blumenauered, with trains and bikes and logos and design competitions and petroleum-hate speeches and delusional "icon" and "linchpin" talk and all the smart growth yada yada you can stand. It's like a bird flying around in ever-smaller concentric circles until it rams itself up its own keister.
Then you realize it's a highway project, which kinda gets the theme song from "The Sopranos" rolling in the background. Put it all together, it spells disaster.