Tonight five clueless members of the Salem City Council voted to move ahead with the unneeded, unwanted, and unpaid-for Third Bridge, a.k.a. the Salem River Crossing.
Let it be remembered who supported this billion dollar boondoggle: Mayor-elect and current city councilor Chuck Bennett, along with fellow councilors Steve McCoid, Jim Lewis, Brad Nanke, and Warren Bednarz. Councilors Tom Andersen and Diana Dickey voted against the bridge.
Bednarz was roundly defeated in this year's election by Third Bridge skeptic Sally Cook. So his vote tonight can't hurt him.
But Bennett, McCoid, and Lewis will be up for re-election in 2018. Their opponents should, and almost certainly will, remind citizens that these guys have voted to impose a $1.50 each way toll on the Third Bridge and two existing vehicular bridges, along with increases in the local gas tax, vehicle registration fee, and property tax.
I'm not making this up.
These are the official major funding sources for the Billion Dollar Boondoggle, along with a comparatively small amount of state and federal money, should that somehow materialize in these financially challenged times.
Tonight was the second reading of an ordinance that "makes major comprehensive plan amendments for the Salem River Crossing Preferred Alternative."
Now, one would think that this City Council meeting would be a joyous occasion for supporters of the Salem River Crossing. It marked a step forward for the Third Bridge. Yet exactly nobody spoke in favor of it at the public hearing (which wasn't very public, because nobody other than city councilors could speak during it).
I saw downcast eyes and morose expressions from the Billion Dollar Boondoggle Five.
City Manager Steve Powers also didn't look very happy, perhaps because I suspect he agrees with much, if not all, of what Councilor Tom Andersen said in his animated six minute explanation of why he was voting NO on the Urban Growth Boundary expansion needed to accommodate the Salem River Crossing bridgeheads.
Below you'll find a video of Andersen's remarks. I urge you to watch it. This was a great example of the proverbial speaking truth to power.
I especially liked his oh-so-true observation that the City Council was rushing to get a vote on the UGB expansion before the end of the year because three newly elected city councilors who are against the Third Bridge, and said so in their campaigns, will take office in 2017.
So the vote tonight was a last gasp attempt by the Chamber of Commerce-backed councilors -- Bennett, McCoid, Nanke, Lewis, Bednarz -- to kiss up to the Powers That Be in this town. They used special interest money to get elected, and they paid back those special interests with their "yes" votes for the Billion Dollar Boondoggle.
Here's the Tom Andersen video.
Update: a commenter, Ben, challenged my assertion that five city councilors voted to approve a $1.50 each way toll on the Third Bridge and existing bridges, plus other tax/fee increases. Well, that is what they did when they voted to move ahead with the bridge via an urban growth boundary expansion.
This bridge isn't going to build itself. Somebody has to pay for it.
And the official funding plan is exactly as I described it. See image below. It makes no sense to claim, as Ben did, that all the City Council did last night is vote for a location for the bridge. That isn't how the way federal/state planning of this sort works.
Everything is tied together. The Salem River Crossing folks have been busily working simultaneously on a bridge design, location, funding plan, environmental impact statements, and such. These can't be separated out, as some City officials like Chuck Bennett have been claiming.
For example, the environmental impact statement is based on a specific bridge design, in a specific location, with a specific cost, and a specific strategy for paying that cost. I wrote about this in "Mayor-elect Bennett doesn't understand Third Bridge approval process."
You can't settle on a plan for a $430 million bridge (known as the Preferred Alternative), submit an Environmental Impact Statement and funding strategy based on that plan, and later tell the Federal Highway Administration, "Hey, now we're going to do something very different; hope that's OK with you guys."
It won't be. Bait and Switch not only is fraudulent, often it is illegal.
Bennett seems to think that a cute cheap little 2-lane bridge could be substituted for the half-billion-dollar Third Bridge if that's what Salem citizens "feel would serve their needs and they'd be willing to pay for."
This isn't my understanding of how the federal approval process works.
First the bridge is designed. A credible funding plan is developed to go with the design. Then all that is sent in to the Federal Highway Administration for approval. Bennett seems to think the approval comes first, and the design plus funding plan can be... whatever.
Hopefully some City official can educate Mayor-elect Bennett about how the process really works.
Moving ahead with the bridge thus means moving ahead with the funding plan. Here it is, in all its billion dollar glory (a likely cost after inflation, cost overruns, and financing costs are included).