“The Columbia River Crossing held 75 meetings on the island, but it was all Disneyland pictures of the paradise they are going to create,” Reddekopp says. “They never informed us the Safeway was going to be destroyed.”
The Hayden Island Livability Project joined a growing chorus of dissent that is stalling, if not threatening the life of, the Columbia River Crossing. In September, Mayor Sam Adams abruptly turned rank, yanking his original support for a 12-lane bridge in favor of a smaller design; Metro Council President David Bragdon began calling for a more comprehensive reconsideration of the size and scope of the entire project. In January, Adams and Bragdon joined with Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt and Clark County Commission Chair Steve Stuart in a letter of protest to Washington Governor Christine Gregoire and Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski. The “cost, physical and environmental elements of the project as currently proposed impose unacceptable impacts on our communities,” they wrote. Requesting a “stronger voice for our local governments,” they argued for better management, a more realistic financing plan, and money to hire their own consultants to appraise key features of the project. Plus, in a big nod to the angry voices from the trailer park, they asked the governors to “commit to meeting the needs of the Hayden Island Community.”
Gregoire and Kulongoski shot back, extolling the project’s benefits: alleviating congestion, improving safety, and easing the movement of West Coast freight. Instead of bowing to local wisdom, they vowed to appoint their own independent committee of “national experts” to review the project. They also drew a not-so-subtle line in the sand: “The citizens of this region have watched our two states discuss and plan for a new bridge for over 20 years … they expect us to proceed.”
Bragdon and other bridge watchdogs were furious. “The governors appointed this stooge committee with a limited scope of work,” Bragdon said after discovering that the committee would be weighted with engineers, transportation officials, and a contractor. “They’ll fly them in, and they’ll issue their report: ‘Oh, this is great, go ahead.’”
Only weeks after the governors’ letter, the Architecture Foundation of Oregon happened to bring its own panel of nationally credentialed urban thinkers to review the project. The group—which included Pulitzer Prize–winning architecture critic Robert Campbell; one of the Columbia River’s leading historians, Richard White; and the former director of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) design program, Maurice Cox—skewered the project as a threat to the region’s livability and for its failure to uphold Portland’s reputation as a transportation innovator.
“Portland is where people go to see the most progressive thoughts on contemporary planning and transportation in the country,” Cox said, summarizing the group’s conclusions. “I’ve brought delegations of elected leaders from other cities to ride your systems. But I look at [the plans for the Columbia River Crossing] and ask, ‘How did this happen?’”