Words matter. The truth matters.
It really bothers me when an elected official -- whether President-elect Trump, Salem Mayor Bennett, or anyone else -- says stuff in a public forum that is flat-out false.
Chuck Bennett has been doing that in regard to the Third Bridge. Fortunately, knowledgeable people are correcting his misstatements.
I did that yesterday in "Mayor Bennett either deceptive or wrong about Third Bridge planning." I did that three months ago in "Mayor-elect Bennett doesn't understand Third Bridge approval process." And I'm doing that tonight in this post. Because again...
Words matter. The truth matters.
As I said in yesterday's post, Mayor Bennett spoke up at last Monday's City Council meeting, wrongly telling Councilor Tom Andersen that there is no design for the proposed Salem River Crossing, also known as the Third Bridge.
Andersen had asked City staff whether a West Salem agenda item had taken into consideration the planned design of Third Bridge approaches involving Marine Drive. That was a reasonable question. Yet Mayor Bennett falsely said there is no bridge design yet.
In his message to me that I'm sharing below, Bob Cortright points out that, yes, it is true that there aren't detailed architectural plans yet for the final bridge design. Like, the color of the railings, where the bridge piers will go, and such.
However, everything else about the bridge definitely HAS been designed.
Like, where it would be built, how many lanes it would have, how long it would be, where the approaches would be located, how much it supposedly will cost. And all this obviously is what Councilor Andersen was referring to.
So Mayor Bennett needs to stop with his Third Bridge falsehoods.
This is a billion dollar project. Salem-area residents would pay for most of it via tolls, a gas tax increase, and other ways described in the Third Bridge financing plan. As Cortright says, the bridge design described in the Environmental Impact Statement can't be changed, if the EIS ends up being approved.
If City officials want a different bridge design, they would have to go through the difficult process of amending the current EIS or prepare a new one.
Cortright knows this, because he spent 30 years working for Oregon's Department of Land Conservation and Development, where he was the Transportation Planning Coordinator.
So please, Mayor Bennett, start telling the truth about the proposed Salem River Crossing.
It is what it is: a big four-lane regional bridge that will cause the destruction of dozens of existing homes and businesses, will do very little to ease local rush hour congestion, probably won't withstand the Big One earthquake, and requires a $1.50 each-way toll on both it and the two existing bridges.
Further, Cortright says that the cost of the bridge likely will be hundreds of millions of dollars more than what the current design is expected to cost. Here's his message to me, which Cortright said would be fine to share.
About there being a design for the bridge, at least what most people would think of when you say that, you won't be surprised to learn that highway engineers might agree with Mayor Bennett because when they talk about "design" they may consider it to be "final design", that reflects detailed engineering and essentially a "ready to build" project.
In that very narrow sense, the Mayor could be right.
But the implications of the Mayor's view are 180 degrees from the land use decision that the city just adopted. It amends the city's plan to say that there will be a big four lane regional bridge (on a structure wide enough for six lanes) and it identifies a corridor a couple of hundred feet wide within which that bridge may be built.
It also includes a two/four lane Marine Drive connection and huge flyover ramps that connect the new bridge and Marine Drive across the existing bridges to Highway 22.
Left to "design" are detailed decisions about where within the identified "corridor" each of these things will be located, and for the bridge detailed decisions about the "structural" and "architectural" design, for example, how many piers there will be and where they will be located, etc.
My recollection is that the Mayor has suggested that the bridge proposed in the EIS [Environmental Impact Statement] is just a placeholder, and that the city will at some time in the future decide just what kind of bridge it will build, implying that it might be something different or smaller or more "neighborhood friendly."
I appreciate that intent, but that's wrong because that's not what the city's plan amendment allows.
It only allows a big regional bridge - as it's described in the EIS. If the city wants something different, it can do that, but it will mean that the city has to start over, by amending the plan and either revising the EIS or doing a whole new EIS.
The suggestion that the funding plan in the EIS is the "worst case scenario" is the sort of comment that people should write down and remember. If you think the current funding plan is the worst case scenario just wait, assuming the project goes forward.
A primary reason is that the $425 million cost estimate that the City of Salem and ODOT are using is almost certainly way too low.
The cost information on the Third Bridge included in the EIS and supporting documents is incredibly vague. The detail provided in the EIS is a one-page chart that includes seven, one-line categories of expense. The chart, and the report it is included in, has no references to studies or reports that were used to prepare the estimate.
It's almost certain that the cost estimate does not reflect the cost of a bridge designed to withstand a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake. (City staff and ODOT say it definitely will be designed to meet new requirements, but it's not clear at all that their cost estimates reflect that commitment.)
And the cost estimates also don't appear to account for the fact that the bridge will need to cross a 50 foot deep gravel pit pond that wasn't there when the EIS started. It would be nice to be more definitive about what assumptions were made about these things, but the answers simply aren't there.
The bottom line is that the bridge is likely to be much more expensive than the $425 million estimate in the EIS.
The consequence of a bigger bill is that the funding plan will be a much worse "worst case" than the councilors are expecting to avoid. It would be interesting, although painful, to see what a funding plan for a $600 or $700 million bridge might look like.
-- Bob Cortright