Seattleites, urbanists, and environmentalists: While we’ve been focused on saving Metro service, expanding rail, and working toward dense growth – we’ve lost sight of part of the bigger picture.
By forgetting about a megaproject from another region, we’ve put in jeopardy funding for what we want built. The biggest threat to funding many of our priorities is the Columbia River Crossing Project (CRC), 160 miles to the south.
The CRC Mega-Highway is a five-mile long highway expansion project of I-5 with seven significant interchange modifications between Portland and Vancouver. In places, the highway will become 22 lanes wide.
Like nearly all mega-highway projects, the CRC Mega-Highway will increase global warming pollution and exacerbate sprawl. But perhaps even worse, the CRC will put taxpayers at tremendous financial risk, spend billions of dollars, and divert money from better projects.
And like most mega-projects, the history of the CRC has been that of an alliance of politics, business, and labor moving forward, never solving significant problems, claiming that we’ve come too far not to keep pushing on, and that some federal dollars are at risk.
In fact, when the Oregon legislature voted to approve $450 million as their state’s share to the project, almost none of the legislators had seen renderings of what the CRC Mega-Project would look like, despite more than eight years of planning efforts.
The driving force behind the CRC Mega-Project has been one company: David Evans & Associates (DEA), which is headquartered in Portland and has nine other offices in the Pacific Northwest. As the lead contractor to engineer and construct the mega-highway, DEA has done some pretty incredible things to keep the project going and the money coming in.
In 2005, WSDOT initially anticipated that a contract for conduct master-planning the project would cost $20 million. As reported in Willamette Week 2 years ago, DEA was the only applicant for the master planning contract and the contract escalated to $50 million. Then only 3 years later, DEA said they couldn’t finish the statement of work without another $45 million escalation. Then, once again in 2011 the cost grew once again to $105 million. That’s contact cost escalation of 525%.
DEA hasn’t been excited to share how it’s spending the $105 million. When a forensic accounting firm filed a public disclosure request, DEA filed a lawsuit against WSDOT and the accounting firm to block the disclosure.
In 2009, DEA hired McCaig Communications, a consulting firm of Oregon political insider Patricia McCaig, at a rate of $90 per hour.
Together, DEA and McCaig have spent more than $103,000 on campaign contributions since 2006, not counting indirect contributions through employees, like-minded businesses, trade associations, or friends. By herself, Patricia McCaig contributed $14,000 to Governor Kitzhaber’s 2010 election campaign while also serving as a campaign consultant.
Once elected, Governor Kitzhaber made building the CRC Mega-Highway a top priority and brought on McCaig as part of his administration. And yet her paycheck still came from DEA. In total, McCaig has made $417,000 while serving under the Kitzhaber Administration.
When the Oregon legislature voted two weeks ago to direct money from pedestrian, bicycle, and transit projects to the CRC to cover Oregon’s share for the CRC’s anticipated bond repayment obligations, every legislator supported by DEA and Patricia McCaig voted in favor. Even the liberal urban legislators.
But while the legislators knew that contributions were coming in the door, they didn’t know that much about the CRC Mega-Highway. Despite more than 8 years of CRC planning, most Oregon legislators hadn’t even seen a rendering of what the CRC mega-highway will look like.
In part 2, I’ll show the misinformation campaign from DEA, WSDOT, and ODOT that’s forced this project forward.