September 18th, 2012 2:23 am | by NIGEL JAQUISS News | Posted In: PDX Votes, Politics, Business, Legislature

Coast Guard Says CRC Design Still A Problem

news2_crc_3814Proposed Columbia River Crossing
Last week, proponents of the $3.5 billion Columbia River Crossing project told a legislative oversight committee that the project is aiming at applying for a $850 million of federal money, from a transportation called New Starts, to cover much of the cost of the light rail portion of the project.

In the presentation to lawmakers, they made a few things clear. First, to apply for the federal money, they need to have commitments of $450 million each from Oregon and Washington. Lawmakers in both states have been skittish about the project, which is built on traffic and tolling assumptions that other independent studies have savaged.

"Legislature needs to act in early 2013 to meet FTA [federal New Starts] eligibility," the CRC timeline says.

But the timeline shows proponents want to force lawmakers to vote on spending $450 million long before an investment grade analysis is done. Such an analysis is a full, independent scrub of the numbers done for potential lenders and won't be finished until December 2013.

The second big red flag in last week's presentation involves the controversy over the height of the proposed new bridge—95 feet.

Industrial river users and the Coast Guard, which must issue a permit for any new bridge over a navigable waterway, say that is too low.  (The Glenn Jackson Bridge on I-205 is 144 feet above the Columbia.)

The CRC presentation assumed that the height issue must be fixed in order to get the federal funding. "Resolution of bridge height issue with receipt of Coast Guard permit," the presentation says.

But the Coast Guard looked at the CRC's plan for "resolution" and didn't agree.

Coast Guard Rear Admiral K.A. Taylor said in a letter (PDF)—that was not included in the presentation to lawmakers—that the CRC's expectation of when the height issue will get resolved is unrealistic.

"A significant potential misunderstanding appears on page nine of the Work Plan under the section titled “Schedule.” The plan states: “it is the intent of the project to submit a permit application in late December 2012, with a goal to achieve a general bridge permit issued by the Coast Guard in mid to late 2013. As a point of clarification, the Coast Guard cannot accept a permit application while “mitigation discussions with potentially impacted river users” continue," wrote Taylor in a Sept 10 letter to the CRC project leaders. "The Coast Guard anticipates mitigation discussions with potentially impacted river users will continue into 2013 and has expressed concern that failure to mitigate the vertical clearance might compel a permit denial."

The Coast Guard continues to insist that CRC researchers failed to count the number of commercial vessels using the river accurately.

"The key draft findings in the Work Plan indicates that the proposed bridge design “has the potential to address navigation needs for all but a small number of river users.” However, as noted previously, the Coast Guard is concerned that subsequent river analysis has shown that the 2004 boat survey data informing the choice of alternatives was not comprehensive," Taylor wrote. "As previously noted, there may be over one hundred vessel transits per year impacted by the mid-height bridge being reviewed that were not accounted for in 2004. Current and potential future river users must be taken into consideration when determining the reasonable needs of navigation."

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