The biggest story that hardly anybody is aware of here in Salem, Oregon is a billion dollar Third Bridge across the Willamette River. If ever built (and that's a big IF), it would be the largest public works project in Salem history.
But our secretive Mayor and her City Council majority are doing their best to keep citizens uninformed and uninvolved, hoping that few people will notice a horrendous waste of taxpayer dollars on a bridge that doesn't solve any transportation problems, but lines the pockets of the Sprawl Lobby -- those who profit from unneeded government spending on boondoggles like the Third Bridge.
Last night the City Council held a work session on expanding Salem's Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) by 35 acres to accommodate the giant Third Bridge. It would be much longer than the current two vehicular bridges across the Willamette, because the plan is to build it where the river is considerably wider.
Citizens aren't able to speak at work sessions. Further, Mayor Peterson did her best to limit questions and comments from city councilors to the UGB expansion, which requires approvals from various government entities owing to Oregon's strict land use laws that protect farm and forest land from unnecessary sprawl.
Fortunately, Councilor Tom Andersen managed to ask lots of questions. He correctly recognized that the UGB expansion is just part of the overall plan to build the Billion Dollar Boondoggle. The expansion doesn't make sense unless a Third Bridge makes sense, which, for sure, it doesn't.
I've written quite a few blog posts on this subject. Here's some that reveal previous outrages about this outrageous project. I've included an excerpt from each.
"Salem Third Bridge teeters toward City Council vote" (May 2013)
There can't be many $700 million projects like Salem's Third Bridge, a.k.a. Salem River Crossing. At least, I sure hope there aren't.
Almost certainly it will get an OK to move forward at next Monday's City Council meeting, but nobody -- not even the most avid proponents -- can come up with a coherent reason for why another bridge across the Willamette is needed.
Case in point: would-be bridge builders have been saying that rush hour congestion between West Salem and downtown is a horrible problem. Ergo, we need a Third Bridge.
I guess No Third Bridge fact-based arguments have demolished that flimsy argument. Because today the City of Salem staff report issued in advance of the council meeting mentions nothing, zilch, nada, about traffic congestion being a reason for a new bridge.
"Salem City Council votes for Third Bridge in absurdist drama" (June 2013)
Wikipedia tells us something about absurdist dramatists:
Their work expressed the belief that human existence has no meaning or purpose and therefore all communication breaks down. Logical construction and argument gives way to irrational and illogical speech and to its ultimate conclusion, silence.
Unfortunately, the only people silenced at the council meeting were people who would be affected by construction of the bridge, along with opponents of this unneeded, unwanted, and unpaid for example of wasteful government overreach (literally, from one bank of the river to another, over a large floodplain).
I watched a resident of West Salem who had just returned home from a lengthy time away be shushed up by Mayor Anna Peterson when he fervently asked to say something about just learning that his neighborhood was going to be trashed by bridge approaches.
However, the Mayor, city council members, and Public Works Director Peter Fernandez had plenty of time to engage in self-congratulatory excess, patting each other on the back so much I thought, "Geez, get a room" and "You should have a massage license to do that sort of stuff."
"Salem has its own $400 million Bridge That's Going Nowhere" (November 2014)
It really doesn't matter whether an unneeded $400 million 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.
Nothing I heard at last night's work session changed my mind about this billion dollar bridge (the estimated cost is now $430 million, but it will be many years, if not decades before it could be built, and financing costs would approximately double the cost, so calling it a billion dollar bridge is entirely justified).
Here's a few outrages from yesterday's City Council meeting to add to the lengthy previous list summarized in my blog posts.
(1) The Willamette Valley Greenway doesn't allow roads and bridges, but the Billion Dollar Boondoggle would pass through the Greenway, so a Greenway Development Permit is required.
But, hey, Mayor Peterson, Mayor-elect Bennett, and their sprawl cronies on the City Council don't care about wildlife, natural beauty, and recreation. They bow at the altar of Pave-It-Over.
(2) Major changes by bridge planners have been made to the already-bad "Salem Alternative" plan approved by the City Council in 2014, but the Council had no say in approving them.
One member of the Salem City Council who was appointed to the Salem River Crossing Oversight Team approved changes to the Salem Alternative that, supposedly, was a kinder and gentler bridge design. Now the design is meaner and rougher, but no hearings were held, or City Council votes taken. Can we all say, "Bait and Switch?"
(3) The bridge hasn't been designed, and no sources of funding for it have been found, but the Mayor and other Third Bridge supporters want the public to support it anyway.
A funding strategy memo for the Salem River Crossing outlines ways citizens could pay for the bridge: a $1.50 toll each way on the new bridge and the two current bridges; a local gas tax; an increase in local vehicle registration fees; a property tax increase. State and federal dollars are expected to pay only for a small part of the billion dollar bridge. Most likely will come from you and me, Salem-area residents.
The crazy thing is that, as noted above, bridge planners don't claim that a Third Bridge will reduce congestion between downtown and West Salem, which originally supposedly was the reason the bridge was needed.
Federal and state funding will only appear if the Billion Dollar Boondoggle is a regional bridge. But the freeway'ish ramps and other connections between the Salem Parkway, the Third Bridge, and Highway 22 are a distant dream, not part of the current plan.
So citizens are being asked to support a bridge that has no reason for being. It won't reduce current backups between downtown and West Salem. It isn't being promoted as a regional bridge. Thus it really is nothing -- not a needed local bridge, and not a needed regional bridge.
Yet we're being asked to pay a billion dollars for this nothing.
Read my June 2013 post, "Mark Wigg, winner! Best arguments against Salem Third Bridge." Wigg was a project manager with the Oregon Department of Transportation for over twenty years. He nails the absurdity of the Third Bridge. Here's what he told the City Council three years ago, but they failed to heed his wise words.
Dear Mayor and City Council,
It is time to Let Your People Know:
1. That pushing for a new bridge means not reducing congestion for 15-20 years or more.
2. That most commuters currently inconvenienced by congestion will not be commuting over the bridges by the time this “solution” is constructed.
3. That even if council approves a smaller local bridge now, that decision will need to be reevaluated and a freeway-style bridge with far more greater impacts is likely to be the bridge design that is selected in the future. The bridge you vote for today will not be the bridge we get.
4. That the city and state will need to spend millions of dollars and thousands of hours of staff time pursuing a bridge alternative.
5. That if a bridge alternative is approved, the city will spend millions of dollars buying and demolishing homes and businesses, leaving devastated neighborhoods for decades. Look at the northeast quadrant of Market Street interchange for an example of what will happen to Edgewater and North Salem.
6. That the bridge alternatives may someday reduce congestion for some people crossing the river but will increase congestion to intolerable levels during rush hours between Salem and Keizer.
7. That over the last 40 years studies have identified at least four other ‘better’ locations for a bridge and that in 10 or 20 years a new council may decide that another location is better.
8. That the fixation on building a new bridge is preventing us from doing the seismic retrofits and other repair work needed on the existing bridges because it diverts limited funds and staff time.
9. That the city has lower cost ways to reduce congestion that could be implemented more quickly and for far less money.
10. That Salem’s Transportation System Plan predicts that the state and federal government will contribute less than 2 percent of the cost of a new bridge, so most of money will need to come from Salem residents.
11. That Salem’s Transportation System Plan predicts that the city will have only 37% of the money it needs for capital improvement projects over the next 20 years not counting a new bridge.
12. That the city and state have solutions to manage emergency bridge closures so that two-way traffic over the river can be maintained and emergency vehicles can use the Union Street Bridge if needed.
We can work together for real solutions to congestion, but this fixation on building a new bridge is preventing us from developing those solutions. It is time to let people know the truth about the third bridge. It is not going to solve the congestion problems we face today and it is diverting our energy from finding real solutions.
With appreciation for your service to our community,