CRC: Sacrifices real solution for sake of light rail

Jeff Kruse

Sen. Jeff Kruse (R-Roseburg)

To expand light rail that most don’t want, CRC won’t solve real problem and will incur future debt and give us a toll bridge

This week the Oregon House passed HB 2800, which is the bonding bill for the new bridge over the Columbia River called Columbia River Crossing (CRC). In my last newsletter I questioned how such a massive borrowing bill could be passed without going to the budget committee, and I think this is still a real issue. Unfortunately the wheels have been greased and this bill will be coming up for a vote in the Senate on Monday and more than likely it will pass. I will be opposing this measure.

Why this project, at this location, at this time? The answer is very simple, light rail and the federal dollars specifically designated for light rail. Over the last eight years we have spent a couple hundred million dollars studying this concept. Originally the scope of potential solutions covered a rather large geography with many options, but in the end the current option was the only one that could accommodate light rail. Light rail works very well in areas with dense populations, but doesn’t really fit in Oregon. One can observe the commuter trains we already have and the fact they usually run half full. The form of mass transit that works best for our region are buses, not trains. It would also appear the majority of people in both Washington and Oregon are opposed to this project, but we are going ahead with it any way.

Two options I might have been able to support actually called for an additional bridge rather than a replacement. One would have been to build a bridge significantly west of the current bridge to potentially connect into Longview, Washington as a freight route to benefit the ports. Another would have been to build a local access bridge to divert the local Portland to Vancouver traffic, which is currently about 70% of the load. Unfortunately neither of these options would have included light rail.

The inclusion of light rail also will have another negative impact. Due to the height requirements to accommodate the train several businesses upstream from the current bridge will no longer be able to get their products down the river. By law river traffic is supposed to be the first priority, but in this case we will just displace these businesses and spend a couple hundred million to relocate them.

Simply stated I don’t think this replacement bridge will solve the congestion problem. It will just move the “pinch point” to the area around the Rose Quarter and there is no plan currently to solve that problem and I doubt we would have the money anyway because of the debt we are taking on for this project. This brings up another issue, and that is what impact this will have on our ability to finance other projects around the state. I don’t have a clear answer to this question.

We will, however, have our first toll bridge. We are told the toll we will now be paying will finance a portion of the debt. The people of California were told the same thing about the Golden Gate Bridge, and 70 years later it still hasn’t happened.

I know a lot of people have put a great amount of time and energy into this project, and they may truly believe this is the right thing to do. They do say there will be frequent updates to the Legislature on the various portions of the project, but the reality is once it is started it won’t be stopped. We are simply putting a significant amount of future debt on Oregonians for a project that will not solve the real problem all for a light rail system most people don’t want.