Sunday, June 5, 2011

Are we creating a bridge or a fiasco?

"This is not a bridge project," began the Bridging the Gaps event. "This is a light rail project with some other things thrown in for political cover."

Saturday, the first sunny day of the season, an eager, albeit light, audience ambled into the auditorium at LifePoint Church. When attendees settled into their seats, the event launched with a non-edited approach to bridges, tolls, politicians, government entities and vendors.

Tri-Met was held up to scrutiny using Tom Sawyer-esque comparisons. Their participation was described as an enterprising boy chomping on a crunchy apple, while everyone else paints the fence, i.e., Tri-Met intends to pay for nothing on this project, including pieces planned for the their side of the border. Yes, Washington State's responsibility includes funding the connecting pieces inside Oregon. The project's funding was described as 'novel.'

Light rail received a bashing. Tom Hann, from We The People, noted, "As long as rail is part of it, it is never going to be a cost effective alternative." He raised up other options: update and repair the I-5 bridge, consider third, fourth and even fifth bridges. Additional river crossing points were pointed to as making sense for the long term. "They incorporate redundancy into a system" that will need more than two options when earthquakes occur.

Tolls were uncharacteristically embraced. "Everywhere else in the economy user fees--pay as you go--is the way the economy works." Speakers also were quick to note, that tolls only makes sense, and are only beneficial to consumers, when consumers have choices.

The audience clapped at the video “CRC: Project cost comparison,” featuring third bridge proponent David Madore. Madore's final video question, "Is the CRC Project sky high or what?" elicited audience chuckles.

Madore's second visual, a virtual rendering of a proposed 192nd Avenue Bridge, gave him the opportunity to dispel the anti-bridge label that the media has pegged him with. “I am for a 192nd Ave Bridge," he stated. He encouraged the audience to take action. "The solution is for us to get engaged. We cannot leave it to those who want to come in and only sell services. We are the customers. We need to participate in the solution." His solution proposed that private industry be tapped to build bridges, saying they build "much more effectively than government."

Joe Cortright, known for the Cortright report, talked about the cost of the project. "Closer to $10 Billion," and not the $3.8 to $3.9 Billion that’s been widely discussed. "The initial price, $3.9 Billion, is only realistic if you could presumably walk in and buy the bridge, or pay for it outright." His PowerPoint showed the CRC project is predicated on very large borrowing, on tolls, surcharges, fees to operate light rail, and the cost to correct critical choke points inside Oregon, such as those at the Rose Quarter.

A project that involves extreme complexity and must pass through the political hands of eight government agencies was boiled down to its simplest terms during an animated feature (embedded above). Children's voices combined with flying seagulls gave a birds eye view of the Columbia River and the two current bridges. The description of the light rail train traveling no faster than the cars stuck in track erupted in chuckles and claps from the audience.

While a sunny day burst with warmth and frenzied activity outside, a half dozen more speakers and one country singer engaged the group that sat in the dark auditorium. The not to be missed moment, was the numbers person. The longest spontaneous applause and loudest hoots came during the forensic auditor's presentation.

When was the last time an accountant made you want to stand up and clap?

Video of the event will be available mid-week on

Editors Note: The author is employed at, a corporation owned by David Madore.