The Oregon Department of Transportation announced Friday it is closing the I-5 bridge project’s offices, issuing cease-work orders to its many contractors and shutting the project down entirely by May 31.
The end comes after more than a decade of work and nearly $190 million worth of planning, engineering, financial and traffic forecasting and other work.
The writing’s been on the wall for a while, but after our Gov. Inslee, to his credit, failed to back it, its days were truly numbered. If you want to know why the CRC was such a terrible idea, read our coverage in three parts: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. If you don’t have time, skip to part 3, which includes some sensible suggestions for what to do now, including tolling the existing bridge, building light rail with federal money, and building a new rail bridge to eliminate 90% of the current drawbridge openings.
I’ve been trying to decide if anything connects the other highway megaprojects in Washington State, like the 520 bridge replacement and the Alaskan Way Viaduct. Journalists are trained to look for patterns of three, after all. What I’ve decided is that the connective tissue is complexity. In an effort to mollify an ever-growing list of stakeholders, planners keep adding features – lanes, off-ramps, lids, walls – until the project gets too expensive and collapses (metaphorically speaking) like a Christmas tree with too many ornaments.
When you’re faced with a wicked problem like a megaproject, you can either keep growing the scope, or you can cut back, simplify, and take it in pieces. For whatever reason, our political system typically creates a one-way ratchet. Projects only ever get bigger. As they drag on, more stakeholders are heard from, or needs change, and so they get even bigger. Sometimes the resulting monstrosity gets greenlit anyway, like the Big Dig, or Alaskan Way Tunnel, and sometimes they get so big they just get cancelled, like the CRC.
Usually, though, the right answer is to scale back and do something simpler. That was the right answer for replacing the Viaduct, and it’s the right answer for the Columbia River.
In that respect, Sound Transit’s fixed budget has been a blessing. The agency is forced to live within a forecasted sales tax budget, so the board and staff are constantly making trade-offs. Take a chance on First Hill or go straight to Husky Stadium? Want to tunnel under Bellevue? It’ll cost you. Global economic recession? Make do with less. We may or may not agree with these individual decisions, but they’ve kept the project moving forward for nearly 20 years, continually showing successes along the way.