And so it came to pass that there was cause for much rejoicing at last night's City Council meeting, for the Wicked Third Bridge (of both East and West, since it would have connected these two sides of Salem) almost certainly was put to death.
Not by having a house dropped on it, or by being splashed with water, which would indeed be a perplexing way for a bridge to die, but by the City Council approving a motion to establish a committee that will examine ways to reduce traffic congestion around the two existing bridges without building a new Third Bridge.
Here's how I summed up the situation a few days ago in "City Council plans to reduce traffic congestion without a Third Bridge."
But if the traffic congestion Task Force is approved at the November 13 meeting, and almost certainly it will be, this will set in motion forces that will make it very difficult, if not impossible, to bring the Third Bridge back to life anytime soon,
After all, if other ways to relieve rush hour congestion can be implemented more quickly and at a lower cost than a new bridge, why build the half-billion-dollar Salem River Crossing? And supporters of a Third Bridge won't be able to oppose the work of the Task Force, since their big complaint has been rush hour congestion.
They've been crying Build It Now! Well, the City Council is about to take steps to deal with rush hour congestion now. Just without building a new bridge.
But note that I said the death of the bridge was cause for much rejoicing, not that such actually took place.
As you can see in the You Tube video I made of Mayor Chuck Bennett's and Councilor Tom Andersen's remarks at the City Council meeting, neither was dancing with joy -- though Andersen comes closest to expressing his inner Munchkin.
(Of course, Bennett has been a big supporter of building a new bridge, so I didn't expect him to be celebrating even though he made the motion to establish the Task Force.)
Watching the City Council meeting on my laptop via the CCTV feed, I had the feeling that this was one of those times where a lot is not being said, even though many words were spoken.
My suspicion is that the Third Bridge supporters on the Council still hold out hope that future elections will change the composition of the nine-member City Council (which now has five progressives, all opposed to a Third Bridge) and the bridge can get back on track, but they didn’t want to say this explicitly, while the Third Bridge opponents on the council were being careful to not gloat about the bridge being blocked to avoid bad feelings.
Proving that the Salem Bridge Solutions' slogan of Build It Now! was a fantasy, Bennett said that after ten years of working on the development of an Environmental Impact Statement it remains controversial and unresolved. And even if the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was approved tomorrow, he went on to say, it would be ten more years before a bridge could be constructed.
Hence, the need to maximize the use of the current Marion and Center Street bridges.
The No 3rd Bridge folks noted in a Facebook post that Mayor Bennett appears to have embraced one of the alternatives to a new bridge in the draft EIS.
MAYOR BENNETT SUGGESTS CONSIDERATION OF ALTERNATIVE 2A
Alternative 2A in the Salem River Crossing Draft Environmental Impact Statement has long been a favorite of many NO 3rd Bridge supporters. It was the only alternative that sought improvement of the existing Marion and Center Street Bridges instead of building a brand new one. It proposed adding three lanes to the two bridges at an estimated cost that was only about a third that of a new bridge. So we were pleased to hear Mayor Bennett make positive mention of it in his remarks tonight. We hope the new task force will dust off Alternative 2A and give it serious consideration.
In a comment on that post an image was shared that shows a plan for the new lanes.
But as Councilor Andersen implies in the video above, the congestion problem really isn't due to a lack of lanes on the existing bridges. A few years ago I asked an engineer working on this project if the problem was the approaches on either side of the river, not the bridges themselves, and he said that was indeed true.
Bennett said that some previous studies concluded that the traffic flow on the existing bridges is maximized, while other studies have shown room for improvement. Andersen, though, rattled off the names of several studies that all pointed to traffic congestion being reduced by improving either the current bridges or the associated streets/approaches.
Regarding the draft Environmental Impact Statement, approval of it is a must if the Salem River Crossing project is to move forward. But this can't happen, since the Land Use Board of Appeals remanded the City Council's approval of an Urban Growth Boundary expansion needed for construction of a new bridge, thereby negating the original approval.
I asked Bob Cortright, an expert in land use matters related to transportation and an opponent of the Third Bridge, if the Urban Growth Boundary expansion had to be accomplished before an Environmental Impact Statement could be approved. Yes, Cortright said, it does.
Coordination Procedures for Adopting Plans for Class 1 and 3 Projects
(1) The Department shall involve affected cities, counties, metropolitan planning organizations, state and federal agencies, special districts and other interested parties in the development of project plans. The Department shall include planning officials of the affected cities, counties and metropolitan planning organization on the project technical advisory committee.
(2) Goal compliance and plan compatibility shall be analyzed in conjunction with the development of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement or Environmental Assessment. The environmental analysis shall identify and address relevant land use requirements in sufficient detail to support subsequent land use decisions necessary to authorize the project.
(3) Except as otherwise set forth in section (4) of this rule, the Department shall rely on affected cities and counties to make all plan amendments and zone changes necessary to achieve compliance with the statewide planning goals and compatibility with local comprehensive plans after completion of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement or Environmental Assessment and before completion of the Final Environmental Impact Statement or Revised Environmental Assessment. These shall include the adoption of general and specific plan provisions necessary to address applicable statewide planning goals.
So this is why I say the Third Bridge is dead.
It is legally blocked by the negation of the Urban Growth Boundary expansion. And given the current composition of the City Council, there is no way it can be unblocked.
And soon the City Council will be moving forward with ways to reduce rush hour congestion on the two current bridges. Once these are implemented and congestion is reduced, it will be very difficult to justify spending half a billion dollars or more on a new bridge that has no reason for being.
This is great news for Salem. So let's all celebrate in our own ways. Me, I'll be singing Ding, dong, the wicked bridge is dead. (But only in the shower, for reasons that would be apparent to anyone who hears my tone-deaf voice.)