The original Alaska bridge debacle sounds a lot like what is trying to be foisted on Salemians. (emphasis added in boldface)
Dubbed the "Bridge to Nowhere," the bridge in Alaska would connect the town of Ketchikan (population 8,900) with its airport on the Island of Gravina (population 50) at a cost to federal taxpayers of $320 million, by way of three separate earmarks in the recent highway bill. At present, a ferry service runs to the island, but some in the town complain about its wait (15 to 30 minutes) and fee ($6 per car). The Gravina Island bridge project is an embarrassment to the people of Alaska and the U.S. Congress. Fiscally responsible Members of Congress should be eager to zero out its funding.
Well, actually Salem's boondoggle is better termed the Bridge That's Going Nowhere.
It deserves that name because there aren't federal or state transportation funds to pay for it; the bridge plan doesn't comply with key state land use goals; local residents aren't going to accept paying tolls or having their taxes raised substantially; and the bridge location doesn't solve Salem's minimalist downtown rush hour problem.
But since money talks in this town, as everywhere in these corporation-controlled United States, millions of dollars keep being spent by the Salem City Council and other groups enamored with an unneeded, unwanted, and unpaid-for third bridge across the Willamette River.
The No 3rd Bridge folks have been doing a great job keeping Salem-area residents informed about this slow-motion taxpayer-funded train car wreck. The Statesman Journal newspaper, not so much. Our so-called community newspaper hasn't done any indepth stories on the bridge planning.
Yesterday, though, the paper had a story about how several Salem city councillors are rebelling against the current super-atrociously awful bridge design (as contrasted with the merely atrociously awful "Salem Alternative" design favored by the council, but now modified by the bridge planning group).
Download Salem councilors on third bridge design: Meh
The design chosen for the third bridge across the Willamette River in Salem drew sharp criticism on Monday at a Salem City Council workshop.
Councilors Chuck Bennett and Diana Dickey raised objections to the twin concrete structures, which would provide two lanes of traffic in both directions. They asserted that the bridge failed to address the "Salem Alternative"— a plan put forth by city council to reduce the repercussions of a new river crossing.
"We were talking about a single bridge, and now we're looking at a double bridge," Bennett said. The councilor said the design appeared to lay the groundwork for a potential freeway cutting through neighborhoods.
But this little kertuffle is a sideshow, a distraction from the Big Question: Why the hell is the Salem City Council supporting a third bridge at all?
It really doesn't matter whether an unneeded $400 bridge is local, regional, or interstellar; small and pretty, or large and ugly; two lanes, four lanes, or twenty lanes. The damn thing shouldn't be built, given the overwhelming reasons to improve the current bridges rather than waste gobs of money on a new one.
Traffic counts across the existing bridges have been constant. Nationally, as locally, people are driving less. Given the location of the planned third bridge, it would do little or nothing to ease rush hour (more like rush minutes) congestion between downtown and West Salem.
And crucially, the Salem City Council should be focused on making the two existing bridges earthquake proof. This would cost hugely less than a new third bridge -- $37 million rather than $400 million.
I'm not sure how much traffic flow improvements to the current bridgeheads would cost. I've heard this would be in the tens of millions, not hundreds of millions.
So let's say that the two existing bridges could be seismically upgraded to withstand the Big One earthquake (that is a matter of When, not If), along with modifications to the approaches to ease congestion, for $100 million or thereabouts.
That's one quarter, or less, of the cost of what the Salem City Council wants to spend on a brand spanking new unneeded third bridge, whose reason for potentially being has never been explained. Last year I asked Public Works Director Peter Fernandez why a third bridge was needed.
His answer showed why one isn't needed.
I asked for the single most important reason. Numero Uno. #1. The words most likely to make opponents of a Third Bridge think, "whoa, maybe we really doneed this thing!"
So how did Fernandez respond?
By saying that the single most important reason is that there is only one way into and out of West Salem. Redundancy and safety were the top reasons a Third Bridge is needed. He said that the bridges are seismically unfit. Currently serious accidents on the bridge tie up traffic for long distances into neighborhoods on both sides of the river.
Well, Fernandez made a great argument for improving the current bridges, rather than building a new one.
Redundancy and safety are best served by making sure both the existing bridges remain functional after an earthquake. It's a relatively simple matter to make the current bridges two-way, rather than one-way, if an accident blocks one of them for a while.
However, No 3rd Bridge has learned that some of the municipalities pushing for a third bridge aren't really interested in easing Salem's traffic problems or making sure people in West Salem can cross the river after an earthquake.
No, they want a "regional" bridge that speeds people through Salem more quickly on their way to Portland, the coast, or wherever. Which makes it all the more outrageous that the Salem City Council is backing a $400 million bridge that minimally benefits Salem and maximally benefits Polk County, Keizer, and other areas.
It's time to put an end to this waste of taxpayer dollars.