Let's be clear: By "bridge building" I don't mean constructing a Third Bridge in Salem across the Willamette River. That project died last Monday night when the City Council voted 6-3 to kill it.
What I'm talking about in the title of this blog post is what happens next in Salem.
Ideally, those fervently in favor of the now-defunct Salem River Crossing project and those fervently opposed to it will come together to work on ways to reduce rush hour congestion in the downtown area that don't involve spending upwards of half a billion dollars on another bridge.
This effort should include lobbying efforts at the State Capitol to make sure that the money already earmarked for making the Center Street bridge earthquake-safe is spent on this as soon as possible.
But I'm worried that this isn't going to happen without some serious work by Mayor Chuck Bennett and Councilor Jim Lewis (who represents most of West Salem) to channel the anger of the Salem Bridge Solutions folks in a positive direction.
Earlier today Salem Bridge Solutions, the group that has been pushing hardest for a Third Bridge, put up a Facebook post that is pretty much the exact opposite of what needs to happen.
Now, I readily admit there's a chance (albeit seemingly a slim one) that "fixing this travesty" and "organizing something soon" could mean something other than, say, working on a recall of all or some of the six progressive city councilors who voted against continuing on with the Salem River Crossing Project.
But a recall is mentioned in some of the comments on this post. And so far the Evans brothers haven't shown themselves to be anything other than single-minded passionate -- fanatic might be a better word -- advocates for a Third Bridge.
Michael Slater wrote a right-on Facebook post today over on the page where City Council goings-on are discussed. I urge you to read it, because Slater nailed it in what he called "The 5 Reasons the Bridge Advocates Lost." Here's number 2 and 3. I corrected a few typos.
2. They didn't build any bridges. Ironically for a group advocating a bridge, they did not work hard to build bridges to voters in other wards. You know, the people that would have to help pay for the bridge. Their advocacy was an inside game of lobbying and pressuring the City Council members. Bridge leaders ran no radio or cable ads, sent no mail, and knocked (to my knowledge) on no doors in wards outside of ward 8. If you want a community to spend $400 million plus to help you out of your (traffic) jam, it's best to persuade them to support by explaining why they have either a moral responsibility or self-interested reason to do so. Bridge advocates didn't bother.
3. Their leadership was divisive and bullying. The Evans brothers became the face of the Build the Bridge effort. They came across as mean, bullying, and disruptive. Yes, some people can get away with that (again, think DC), but it didn't play in Salem. Enough said.
Today someone told me that Councilor Cara Kaser is planning on coming to the February 18 West Salem Neighborhood Association meeting publicized in the Salem Bridge Solutions post (that group engineered a takeover of the association, so now controls the agenda).
Since Kaser was singled out for special criticism because she represents part of West Salem, the person who told me she was coming to the meeting worried that she might need police protection. Hopefully this worry was overblown.
Regardless, I'm hoping that both Mayor Bennett and Councilor Lewis will do what they can between now and February 18 to urge the leaders/members of Salem Bridge Solutions to work cooperatively with all of the City Council -- including the six progressives who voted against the Salem River Crossing proposal -- to find common ground.
A City of Salem task force has come up with numerous ways to reduce rush-hour congestion in the downtown area. Salem Bridge Solutions should involve itself with making those improvements a reality. And there's considerable openness toward exploring a different location for a new bridge.
Sure, it will take many years for another bridge project to come to fruition. But backers of the Salem River Crossing need to come to grips with the fact that it is dead. Nothing will bring it back to life, including attempts to recall the councilors who voted against it.
Hopefully both Mayor Bennett and Councilor Lewis will come to the February 18 West Salem Neighborhood Association meeting. They should sit next to Councilor Kaser and vow to work with her, and with her progressive colleagues, on ways to address the traffic concerns raised at last Monday's City Council meeting.
Some of those concerns were valid. Some weren't. Through respectful open discussion, people in Salem can do their best to bridge the divide that currently separates our community.
I understand the anger and disappointment that backers of the Salem River Crossing felt after the 6-3 City Council vote to terminate the project. It hurts to see a cause that you deeply believe in go down in flames. But life goes on. Negativity needs to turn to positivity.
The February 18 meeting is a great place to start.
I'll end by noting that I found the Facebook post by Jim Allhiser, chair of the West Salem Neighborhood Association, to be highly questionable.
I've been to NA meetings where both sides of a political issue have made presentations, but what Salem Bridge Solutions is doing is so blatantly one-sided, I'm wondering if it fits under the purpose of neighborhood associations -- since they are supposed to represent everybody who lives in a certain part of Salem, not just those with a particular viewpoint.