Skip to Content
Streetsblog USA home
Streetsblog USA home
Log In
Network Roundup

Oregon Justifies $3 Billion Highway Boondoggle With Made-Up Numbers

false

The project to replace and expand the I-5 bridge between Oregon and Washington, a.k.a. the "Columbia River Crossing," has been watched by transportation experts around the country as a case study in the dynamics of a highway boondoggle. Earlier this year, when state lawmakers in Washington State refused to fund their portion of the project, observers proclaimed the project dead.

But big highway proposals die hard. Groups invested in the concept recently revived the plans and are pressing again to build it, with some revisions.

Despite the recent setback, the new version has many of the same flaws that made the previous proposal so unpopular. Basically, the expense can't be justified. Aaron Renn at the Urbanophile points to a recent report by economist Joe Cortright, who flagged an analysis of the CRC for investors by project consultant CDM Smith. Those forecasts, obtained by Cortright  through a public records request, predict that traffic on the bridge will actually decline after it is built and tolled -- an outcome that is completely at odds with what Oregon DOT claimed in its environmental impact statement.

Renn writes:

Oregon DOT director Matt Garrett released a letter in response in which he says, “This work is fundamentally different than the traffic analysis completed for the Final Environmental Impact Statement, and with very different goals in mind.” I agree. The FEIS was performed with the goal of getting this bridge the DOT wanted built approved. The toll study was designed to withstand financial scrutiny on Wall Street and be relied on in selling securities. I’ll let you be the judge of which is more likely to be closer to the truth.

Cortright's paper raises a host of other questions about the transportation impacts of the CRC and its financial viability. Renn says the whole scenario reminds him of a highway bridge debacle unfolding in the Louisville area so much, that it seems like state DOTs have the same playbook when it comes to manipulating data to justify wasteful projects:

Want to know how it is that we spend so much money on transport infrastructure and get so little value? It’s because far too many of our highway dollars go into boondoggle mega-projects ginned up through political pressure ... instead of into projects that make transportation sense.

Elsewhere on the Network today: World Streets outlines some of the trends emerging in the North American car-sharing industry. Systemic Failure explains one of the chief drawbacks of sharrows. And Urban Review STL ponders how to reduce conflicts between bus routes and major civic events on downtown streets.

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter

More from Streetsblog USA

The Paris Plan for Olympic Traffic? Build More Bike Lanes

A push to make Paris fully bikable for the Olympics is already paying dividends long before the opening ceremonies.

July 25, 2024

Thursday’s Headlines Face Our Fears

What happens if Republicans win the trifecta in November? Judging by the GOP-controlled House budget, a lot less money for transit, Smart Cities Dive reports.

July 25, 2024

N.Y. Gov Must Put Up or Shut Up on Congestion Pricing, New Senate Transportation Chair Says

Gov. Hochul must produce a "100-day plan" to replace the $16.5 billion MTA funding shortfall created by her decision to cancel congestion pricing.

July 24, 2024

Wednesday’s Headlines Are in a Good Place

How should we react to public indifference about the danger cars pose to society? Perhaps a sitcom has something to teach us.

July 24, 2024

Opinion: Is Kamala Harris ‘The Climate President We’ve Been Waiting For’?

Kamala Harris fought hard for a better transportation plan in the San Diego region despite big political risks. If elected president, will she do the same for the country?

July 24, 2024
See all posts