Scam: a fraudulent or deceptive act or operation.
Yes, thats what we've got right here in Salem, Oregon. This town has a reputation for sleepiness, but Salemians need to freaking WAKE UP to the Third Bridge scam city officials are trying to get them to pay for.
Last night I spent two hours at a Salem River Crossing Funding Workshop, which would have been more accurately called How to Fool Local Citizens Into Paying a Billion Dollars for an Unneeded Boondoggle.
If you think my language is over the top, believe me, it isn't. The Love Salem blog speaks even more bluntly about what's going on in "Fight GIGO! Take the Fantasy Funding Survey."
The gangsters running the 3d Bridge scam have resorted to Survey Monkey surveys on Salem's willingness to spend imaginary money for an imaginary benefit with no alternative uses for the money considered in the mix. It's pure garbage of the rankest kind.
...So the only reason for this little joke of a survey is to allow the con men (CH2M-Hill) running this very cushy racket through their obedient pets at ODOT ($60k/month corporate welfare for the last seven years, with millions more in the pipeline) to collect some propaganda nuggets they can try to use to sell their product to the rubes ... Which is to say, us, the people of Salem.
The deep, abiding cynicism of Salem's Bridgasaurus Boondogglus Crew is a marvel to behold. It's our own little version of life as it is lived in many little banana republics and African barely-nations, where the gangsters on the top ignore the needs of the people and instead build themselves massive, useless projects funded by debt that ends up bankrupting the people and lashing them to debt for generations.
In this post I don't want to dive into too many distracting details about the Third Bridge proposal.
It's the big picture that is disturbing. Proponents of the bridge, like the folks who organized last night's workshop, want to keep our focus on bridge design and funding -- acting like the car salesman who asks, "What color do you like for your new vehicle?"
How about NONE! Because I don't want a new car.
That was the answer almost everybody at my small group table at the funding workshop said when a staff person tried to get us to figure out how to pay for the $430 million Third Bridge (a price tag that balloons to nearly a billion dollars when bond financing costs are figured in).
Here's how to pay for it, we said: Don't build it! Then the cost is zero.
Instead, fix and improve the two bridges we already have. Seismically retrofitting the existing bridges so they don't fall down in the upcoming Big One earthquake, along with improving traffic flow by adding lanes and/or improving the bridgeheads would cost about 1/4 as much, or less ($100 million or so, our table estimated).
Astoundingly, the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) staffer who led the workshop admitted that both the federal and state transportation priority is maintenance and preservation of existing roads/bridges, not building new ones.
I asked him about this near the end of his opening presentation in a comment disguised as a question. I said something along this line:
"Tell me if I've gotten this right. You've just told us that the federal government's transportation funding priority is maintenance and preservation, as is the state of Oregon's funding priority. But somehow our local transportation funding priority is a new billion dollar third bridge, even though our two current bridges aren't earthquake proof and are in need of other improvements."
He agreed with me. Few, if any, federal and state dollars are going to be available for the billion dollar Third Bridge. That's why the funding workshop wanted people to mix and match projected revenues from tolls, a gas tax hike, property tax increase, and higher vehicle registration fees.
All from local residents, of course. Notably residents of Salem, Marion County, and Polk County. This is what makes the Third Bridge even more of a scam.
Local officials -- Mayor Peterson, city councilors, Public Works Director Fernandez -- keep telling Salemians the bridge is needed to alleviate congestion between West Salem and downtown. But this isn't true. At a previous workshop a CH2M-Hill staffer told me that the eight lanes on the two current bridges are plenty; how vehicles get on and off of the bridges is the problem.
"So why not improve the bridgeheads at a much lower cost?" I asked him. I recall that I got a mumbled incoherent reply. Too much truth for someone whose job is to hew to the CH2M-Hill party line, I guess.
When scams are challenged, an inability to defend the worthiness of the product being offered proves their scaminess. As does evidence that someone other than the purported "customer" is really benefitting from the deal.
That evidence was on full display last night.
A woman asked the moderator if the economic impact to downtown Salem had been considered, since the Third Bridge is designed to channel traffic away from the downtown core and Historic District. The staffer said this hadn't been looked into, while admitting that the goal is to have less downtown traffic.
Yet we've seen that the minimal congestion (few hours a day, at most) on the current bridges between West Salem and downtown can be alleviated by improving the bridgeheads at a cost of tens of millions, rather than hundreds of millions.
Who benefits from a Third Bridge, then? Well, outlying towns such as Monmouth and Independence, for one. A staff person said this is a main goal: to whisk traffic from Polk County through Salem onto I-5. This will make those areas more attractive to industrial uses.
OK. Honest answer.
But again, this isn't how the so-called "Salem Alternative" Third Bridge has been described to citizens. 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.
Here's another interesting fact: at the workshop ODOT staff said that if the Third Bridge is built, they expect traffic to be divided equally between the new bridge and the two current bridges. That is, 2/3 on the existing bridges, 1/3 on the new bridge.
I thought it'd be interesting to calculate what each crossing of the new Third Bridge would cost, given the nearly one billion dollar price tag over 20 years, and the above assumption that the bridge would carry one third of all crossings on the three bridges.
Meaning, how much would a toll on the new bridge have to be if those using the bridge paid for all of it?
This isn't a "real world" question, because obviously most drivers would use the non-tolled bridges if only the new bridge had a toll charge. I just wanted to figure out what the cost of each vehicle crossing actually is -- because this is hidden when the billion dollar cost is paid by increases in a local gas or propery tax rate that is spread out over everybody living in Marion and Poik counties.
Looks to me like the cost is $20. Each way. Yes, twenty dollars.
(Those mathematically inclined can check my work via these facts: bridge planners assume a $0.75 toll on existing bridges and new bridge would raise $5.2 million a year. Since the new bridge only carries 1/3 of traffic, a toll on just the new bridge would raise about $1.7 million a year. Annual bond payment is $46.4 million if $430 million is borrowed over 20 years. So 27 times $0.75 must be the toll (46.4/1.7 = 27). That's $20, rounded off.)
Our current crop of city officials are fond of saying that downtown parking has to pay for itself. That is, downtown businesses and people parking downtown should absorb the cost of parking in the core area, not all Salem-area residents.
Fine. I don't agree with this logic, but let's apply it to the Third Bridge.
If the current bridges are so horrible, so congested, so difficult to use to get where you want to go, then the estimated 1/3 of Willamette River crossers who would use the Third Bridge should be willing to pay the full cost for it.
Why should I, a south Salem resident who rarely crosses the river, and is happy with the current bridges when I do, have to pay for a billion dollar bridge I'd rarely, if ever, use? Let's let the free market decide if the Third Bridge is economically justified.
Toll the Third Bridge. Charge each way: $20. That's what it would cost if those using the bridge paid the full cost of it. Sounds fair to me.
If you agree with me that nobody except the frivolous rich would pay that much to be able to cross the river a short distance downstream from the current bridges, then you're agreeing with me that the billion dollar Third Bridge is a scam, a ripoff, a massive transfer of money from ordinary citizens to consultants, construction firms, real estate speculators, out-of-area vehicles passing through Salem, and the like.
This town don't need no damn billion dollar Third Bridge.
Not great grammar. Just exquisitely spoken truth.