After attending today's meeting of the Salem River Crossing Oversight Team, I'm pretty much convinced that its members have jumped the gun on Oregon's upcoming legalization of recreational marijuana. And maybe dived into psychedelics as well.
Nothing wrong with that.
I'm just saying that while it's great to be high and enjoy an altered state of consciousness, it isn't a good idea to be off in your dream world while you're playing around with decisions that could cost Salem-area residents a billion dollars or so while buying them nothing, zilch, nada.
A week ago I blogged about Salem's Third Bridge scam.
We've been told this was going to be a two lane local river crossing without elevated ramps that wouldn't displace any existing homes and businesses.
Now the Third Bridge has morphed into a freeway'ish monstrousity of a regional bridge whose main purpose is to speed traffic betweeen Highway 22 and I-5. Yet Salem-area residents are still expected to pay for most of it. And accept the demolition of homes and businesses.
Hence, its a scam. The promised benefits won't go to people in Salem, though they'll be asked to pay the bulk of the billion dollars.
After observing the first part of a meeting devoted to deciding on how to pay for this boondoggle, I've now reached the conclusion that not only is the whole Salem River Crossing/Third Bridge thing a scam, it is an absurd scam.
Again, there's nothing wrong with absurdity. Life would be a lot more boring without it.
I just don't think people struggling to make ends meet should be forced to endure a billion dollars worth of absurdity by public officials who should be dedicating themselves to making life better for folks, rather than forcing citizens to watch a drama unfold that's better suited for an existentialist play about the meaninglessness of life.
Here's some of what went on in the Wacky World of Salem River Crossing planning today.
We want to hear you, but not really.
The Oversight Team had a public comment item on its agenda. I got there early. Was the first to sign up. By the time the meeting started, 13 other people had joined me on the list. At two minutes each, the Oversight Team could have listened to everybody in 28 minutes.
But, no, they only wanted to devote ten minutes to hearing from concerned citizens. The nine people who weren't allowed to speak were told they had to wait several hours until the end of the meeting to express their opinion about Third Bridge funding.
When I got up to speak my piece, I told Salem City Councilor Dan Clem, Marion County Commissioner Sam Brentano, and the other "can't be bothered" officials that it was crazy to invite citizens to comment on their work, and then make them wait until the meeting was over to speak -- when all the decisions had been made.
When you talk, we won't listen.
Councilor Dan Clem, who represents both the Salem City Council and his constituency of West Salem, was both the most outspoken member of the Oversight Team and the most annoying. He likes to hear himself talk, but doesn't do a good job of listening.
The Oregon Department of Transportation moderator started off by reporting on the Third Bridge funding workshop for members of the public that I attended.
He did a good job explaining when went on: most people at the workshop didn't want a new bridge to built at all; instead, they wanted the two current bridges improved (seismic strengthening, better traffic flow); so discussions centered on how to pay for $40 to $100 million worth of improvements to the existing bridges, not on funding a $430 million Third Bridge that isn't needed or wanted.
But after hearing this, several times Clem said "So people at the workshop decided not to participate." No, clueless Councilor Clem, I and the other 49 people who took two hours out of our evening to come to the workshop did a lot of participating.
Most of us just rejected the Oversight Team's absurd premise that a billion dollars worth of funding should be sought for an unneeded, unwanted, and unpaid-for Third Bridge. Since Clem refused to hear this message, I guess citizens just need to speak louder.
There's no money, but no problem.
ln "real" life (meaning, outside political/bureaucratic fantasy realms), not being able to pay for something would make people reconsider the wisdom of trying to get it. Lower cost options would be examined. Or doing without that thing.
Not in the fantastical world of the Salem River Crossing Oversight Team, though. State transportation staff told the members that maybe $50 million in state and federal funding could be available for the $430 million project. Optimistically.
That's 12%. The other 88% would have to come from local funds.
Sounds about right. The replacement Sellwood Bridge in Portland was 77% locally funded, and government money is tighter now. The top priority of Oregon transportation planners is "Fix It First," not building new roads, bridges, and such.
However, Councilor Clem and some other members of the Oversight Team ignored that reality. Clem said that half of the $430 million could come from state and federal funds (which balloons to nearly a billion dollars with financing costs).
Nobody had a clue about where that much money would come from, or how it could be raised locally. Tolls are the preferred funding option. Not just on the new bridge; on the already-paid-for current bridges also. But even a toll each way of $1.50 to $3.00 likely wouldn't be enough to pay off 20 year bonds.
And how do you think a toll for a Third Bridge would go over with Salem residents? Especially people living in West Salem. Councilor Clem and his City Council replacement, Jim Lewis, should talk more with their constituents about how popular a two buck, or whatever, price tag for crossing the Willamette River on a new bridge is.
Won't be good for West Salem property values. Or West Salem businesses. But, hey, no problem. Nothing is a problem for the flying-high "All is Good" Oversight Team. They've never met a reality they couldn't ignore.
No bridge is the solution to the Third Bridge problem.
The flip side to what I just said is the Oversight Team's inability to recognize that if they just take one more seemingly absurd step, they will have circumnavigated the crazy planet of their current planning and arrived at a sane place that is oh-so-close to where they have always been.
The chance of the Third Bridge being built is exceedingly slim. However, the problems that this Bridge That's Going Nowhere are intended to solve are easily fixed -- by giving up on the notion of a Third Bridge, while preserving one of its attributes.
Salem's Breakfast on Bikes blog ably described this snake-eating-itself approach in today's "Third Bridge is Self-Negating."
Based on their own, internal formulas and projections, there is no need for any measure on the bridges other than tolling!
More than this, the best way to fund a bridge removes the conditions that supposedly make it necessary.
A $1.00 toll reduces congestion so much that traffic counts won't reach projected untolled 2015 levels until 2030!
A $2.00 toll basically halves the traffic.
...Another way of looking at it is that the Third Bridge is fundamentally self-negating, based on incoherent and contradictory assumptions.
The fairest way to raise funding is through a user fee. This also scales up and generates the right scale of funds. (It's much more difficult to generate the right amount of funding through property taxes, gas taxes, or licensing fees.)
But as soon as you do that, congestion is reduced so much there's no need to build additional capacity.
I really like this idea. Toll the two current bridges.
Probably not permanently. But long enough to change driving habits (could I walk, take the bus, or bike to/from downtown and West Salem?) and pay for much-needed seismic strengthening of the bridges, along with funding traffic flow improvements.
Congestion pricing could ease the toll burden on those who can least afford it. Meaning, reduce or eliminate tolling at non-peak times.
Tolling, as a draft ECONorthwest memo explains, will lead to fewer vehicle trips across the current bridges while funding improvements to them. So it solves the two main problems the Third Bridge was intended to solve -- congestion and earthquake readiness -- at a hugely lower cost.
Download SRC Funding Memo
And with no disruption to the dozens of homes and businesses that would be demolished by the planned Third Bridge.
Yes, we've reached an ultimate absurdity. The best way to get the benefits of a new bridge is to not build one. Sanely crazy.