This past Monday, February 11th, 2013 at Oregon’s state capitol building in Salem, a joint committee hearing over the proposed 12 lane mega-freeway expansion project known as the Columbia River Crossing overflowed two packed rooms. People spilled out into the hallway and lobby where even more concerned citizens viewed video monitors for over five hours of public testimony.
Throughout the proceedings, Mismanaging Perception’s own team of livebloggers updated those who couldn’t make the trip to Salem themselves. Via Twitter, reporters and elected representatives alike commented on the hearing.
First up was Team Kitzhaber, who looked visibly tired while reciting the usual pro-CRC language that proponents have been repeating ad nauseum for years; earthquakes, jobs, congestion, freight, economy, jobs, etc, etc. They even screened a short propaganda video from 2002 (the same year traffic on the current I-5 bridge peaked before beginning it’s continued 11 year decline). This short film seemed almost comically out of step with the climate crisis concerns of today. After Team Kitz finished up, it was the public’s turn at bat. It didn’t take long for home runs to start getting knocked out of the park. Opposition to the wasteful freeway expansion saw testimony against the CRC far outnumbering supporters of the $4-10 billion dollar project.
Highlights included Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods president Chris Lopez reminding the legislative committee of Portland’s historical precedent for putting the brakes on unwanted highways at the last second, “The Mt. Hood Freeway was stopped by public participation.” Lopez closed by urging the committee vote against funding the project, “Please, don’t do this.”
John Charles Jr. of conservative think tank Cascade Policy Institute targeted the light rail component of the CRC, citing the frequent C-TRAN bus service as the correct fast and efficient model, quipping, “We’re not gonna’ play Charlie Brown to TriMet’s Lucy any more.”
Veteran freeway slayer Ron Buel was on hand to deliver solid facts that undermined CRC supporters’ worn jobsjobsjobs argument, “The 17 lane interchange on Hayden Island will demolish 70 businesses and remove 916 permanent jobs.” Several of Buel’s associates testified colorfully, describing the project as a “blizzard of hype”, “a looming, disastrous project”, and “one monstrous facility”.
When the committee raised questions over ‘potential’ cost overruns, long time CRC critic Evan Manvel reminded via Twitter that the project had already gone 150% over budget without any construction taking place whatsoever.
State rep. Julie Parrish (R.) of Oregon’s house district 37 Tweeted from behind the committee bench, “If Washington’s legislature is ending session before ours, why does Oregon have to pull the trigger first?” indicating that there was no reason for Oregon to vote on funding the CRC until her counterparts on the other side of the Columbia coughed up their $450 million dollar share of the project.
The Oregonian’s ‘PolitiFact’ reporter Janie Har, who had written a short piece earlier in the day regarding the hearing that generated over 40 comments, closely followed via Twitter. Har remarked on the length of the marathon hearing and predictable style of testimony that several legislators provided in support of the project.
While most of those present at the hearing had commuted from Portland to Salem by car, CRC critics Nathan Jones and Michael Hernandez chose to ride their touring bikes for the 100 mile round trip to the capitol. Willamette Week staff writer Andrea Damewood Tweeted, “Whoa. These bike guys are hardcore.”
Jones accurately referred to Oregon’s $450 million dollar share of the project price tag as “laughable”. Hernandez, an 8 year military veteran and homeowner, cited his opposition to the freeway expansion, and made note of a protestor who was removed from the hearing prior to his testimony for holding up an anti-CRC sign. Several union supporters of the project in the room wore large stickers on their arms reading, ‘Build the Bridge’. Hernandez urged the committee to “consider removing those people, too” eliciting approving laughter from those seated in the hearing overflow room.
Shortly after Jones’ and Hernandez’s testimony, an agitated elderly man testified that he had proudly driven his car to Salem today, “which means I payed for the roads!”, indicating his incorrect understanding that somehow people who commute via bicycle don’t pay taxes. He went on to angrily demand that “bikers pay tolls for the CRC”, which not only drew more laughter but several comments on Twitter:
Another elderly man proclaimed his disdain for light rail, though it wasn’t totally clear whether he supported the CRC or not. He testified, ”I’m 88 years old, and I remember Portland’s streetcars in the 1920s and they were good, but cars came and changed all that. It’s time we embraced Henry Ford’s gift to freedom.” This line drew perhaps the most laughter from the audience.
Rounding out the logical testimony against the CRC was Nick Stack, Dan Kaufman, and Peter Welte. Stack reminded the committee that climate change is causing massive disruption to our economy, and that these costs must be factored into the CRC. Kaufman took a more humorous angle, branding the CRC as “this generations’ WHOOPS project”, referring to the largest municipal bond default in U.S. history. Welte stuck to the basics, “In an earthquake the current bridge will not fall down, Oregon doesn’t have the money to pay for the CRC, and the freeway expansion won’t solve congestion.”
At around 7pm, MMP’s Team Liveblog decided to call it a day. We were hungry, we were tired. As we stepped out of the hearing room, we ran into several friends in the capitol lobby. Hands were shook, thank you’s exchanged. People were still seated around a small monitor displaying the continued testimony.
While the comments made to the committee throughout the day came from mostly men at least 50 years in age, just as we were about to leave, we caught one last testifier via monitor: Emma Buktenica. At just 24 years old, Emma was the youngest voice on record at the hearing. She spoke earnestly and honestly about the implications the CRC will have on our future’s economy and ecology, “Make no mistake, it is my generation that will be paying for this thing.”
The hearing continued not much longer after we exited the capitol. It remains unclear how many people were still on deck to testify at the close of the hearing. Regardless, another public hearing has now been scheduled for this next coming Monday, February 18th at the capitol building, once again in Hearing Room ‘F’.
An event page for people opposing the CRC has already been created, and can be found HERE.
Please consider adding your voice to those who have already testified. We need to continue speaking out against this colossal misallocation of our states’ resources.
We need you to tell Oregon’s legislators that we say NO to the CRC.