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Thursday, July 21, 2011

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.

Comments (21)

Gold Star Phrase of the Day:

It's like a bird flying around in ever-smaller concentric circles until it rams itself up its own keister.

I went to some of the first public meeting on this and it was amazing to watch the egos in action.

Just turn the ownership over to a private business and get the government out of the way.

I'm surprised that you've bought into the most expensive, least well justified solution to the problem you identify ... Especially since I think you've linked to a good YouTube that explains how we can get rid of the bridge lifts 99.9% of the time by aligning the passage properly on the RR bridge downstream, leaving the serviceable I-5 spans alone.

A huge portion of the wasted money on this boondoggle will be wasted on the approaches, and that is all graft and contractor pork. Once you buy the frame that we have to mess with I-5 itself, rather than actually do something to fix the real problem (the frequent bridge lifts) then you've signed up to blow a couple billion for nothing. Zip. Nada.

Given that VMT is continuing to decline and the prospects are for this trend to continue as vehicle ownership and driving becomes increasingly demographically shifted towards the older and richer, you can't rail against all the condo bunkers being built for the hypothetical Million but at the same time argue that we need to expand a small portion of I-5 just so we can move the choke point towards the Rose Garden. Reality is that the CRC is nothing but highway pork being sold with fantasy numbers and absurd projections.

Fix the RR bridge alignment. By the time that's done, you will have eliminated about 99% of the bridge lifts, and you'll have avoided marrying a wasteful boondoggle just as we head back into even Greater Recession.

I think you're mising the point, this is not about building a bridge.

The whole project is for keeping all the consultants and friends of politicians in business and making good incomes. They make a decision, it'd be like a lawyer getting a judgment - The meter stops running.

My sense is we'll just keep paying and drag this thing out forever.

They must suspend the project, close the $35,000/month CRC offices in Vancouver and investigate where every dime of the $130 million went and what it paid for.

Then wait until every Adams, Burholder, Peterson, Bluemenaur nitwit is removed from any participation.

Nothing honest, rational or affordable will come from the current Portland/TriMet/Metro policy makers.

Certainly not an acceptable CRC.

First, I love the 598 million number. Oh, so very accurate, and besides, saying 600 million could give the public the impression that the project is out of control. Love it.

Actually, Washington State has put together a very effective display showing how planners can spend 130 million and be off by 598 million on a budget that's currently over 3 billion.

You take I-5 North to Lacey and then turn right... Wait, maybe I'll just tell you how to find a clip of it on YouTube. Just search for, "Sow Nursing Piglets at the Thurston County Fair."

We have $598 billion...do I hear $750 billion? One trillion dollars?

Congratulations, Jack, on producing the only honest reporting and commentary on both bridge fiascoes.

It's worth noting that tolls may bring their own issues, whether by "glitch", as described below - or plain old bureaucratic greed.


The construction mafia continues to dominate local politics. They probably enjoy all the distraction of gang shootings so they can continue to make a killing on our ignorance.

This is all so Portland!

Funny thing about bridge tolls is this bit of history. I've been around these parts to remember when the bridge at Astoria over the Columbia was a toll bridge. When the bridge was paid for, the tolls ended. Last time I was through there you could still see bits of the toll infrastructure. Anyone who remembers this history will be outraged to pay a toll on an existing bridge. Just sayin'

I'd say "put a bird on it", except they put noise cannons on the bridge to remove the birds.

I thought I remembered reading somewhere that tolling on the I-205 bridge wasn't an option because federal law prohibits instituting a toll on a federally funded roadway that wasn't financed with tolls to begin with. I can't easily find a reference article to prove this though.

Here is something that all the readers of this blog will definitely love:

Portland: weird but wonderful

(from Calgary)

As a lefty-lib, I offer my hand across the aisle to my more conservative friends: Let's save $5B in Federal spending my killing the CRC bridge, the Milwacky MAX program, the LO trolley, and kill explorational (exploitational?) funding for The Barbur Blvd MAX projects.

WA Gov Chris G. stated that we have to "move fast to lock in Federal Dollars -- otherwise the project would not be fair to taxpayers."

Unfair to which taxpayers, Governor? Why should folks in Iowa pay for our toys? That seems pretty unfair to me.

To paraphrase an ol' Hollywood chestnut: "Lean up. fellas, the economy is in for a bumpy ride." And making last second grabs for what money is still around makes up look like bullies as the fiscal game of musical chairs.

Has anyone seen Joe Cortright's 10 Billion dollar CRC financial analysis presentation?

State Rep. Tina Kotek did @ Concordia recently and commented afterwards that (Secretary) LaHood's Bridge is a Done Deal.

What good is public input when public servants don't consider the public voice.

(Chip Shields was scheduled to comment-no show)

Lexus - I don't feel like doing the deep digging but I believe you will find federal regs on bridges right here:


Argh - I just tried the link.... damned Feds are using Frames (worst web technology idea of all times) - essentially you will need to get to Title 23 Subchapter G and Section 650

If you think "Toll Now" is hilarious, catch this: Sam and Randy are now proposing that Portland's sewer/water fees be used to help finance the bridge and back additional bonding capacity. They say, "Well, it is water related and we contribute to some of the direct pollution. Plus, with the tide action, some of our Willamette effluent gets shoved up under the bridge".

Makes sense to me.

No offense to my Democrat friends but State Rep. Tina Kotek is as dishonest as Sam Adams. Her rhetoric and "input" regarding the CRC has been stuffed full of every element now shown to be either a complete fabrication, blatant lie or thoroughly incompetent.

She hasn't the slightest grasp of any component of the project. Not the need, the funding sources, the function, the accounting or impacts.

She is simply riding along an agenda that has devalued all due diligence and scrutiny to an outdated and uselss obstacles.

These people have no interest in validating anything at all.

Isn't it something that not one of them have been the ones that have caught ANY of the red flags or fatal flaws?
Not one.
And when the problems are raised and presented by others they appear immediately offended, refuse to acknowlege anything and seek to drive the agenda around the disturbance.

This severe problem is being dupicated in Clark County, Lake Oswego, Clackacmas County and Beaverton.
It's never been worse, with more public deceit involving massive amounts of debt and tax dollars.

Both the official reckless dishonesty & cost of their actions have soared.

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