(Vancouver, WA) Troy Campbell, a Vancouver businessman, organized a town hall at Skyview High School last night in Vancouver, Washington. He featured expert speakers Joe Cortright, John Charles, and Tiffany Couch who have all become stalwart critics of the Columbia River Crossing project, and who have all concluded--in their own ways--the project is a bad deal for taxpayers.
The CRC project is a $3.4 billion bridge replacement and transportation corridor improvement project aimed at relieving congestion along I-5 just North of the Columbia river. It is a joint project between Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) and the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT). Initial funding for the project will come from the two states and the federal government. Critics say project overruns are inevitable and will be paid solely by the taxpayers of the two states.
Campbell invited representatives from the CRC project and from C-TRAN the local transportation authority. Both agencies declined to participate. He announced at the beginning of the meeting his desire to have a balanced forum and again asked if anyone was available to represent the positions of either agency and nobody stepped forward.
Joe Cortright, President and Principal Economist with Impressa research made a compelling presentation indicating that the traffic, and tolling revenue models the CRC used are outdated and inaccurate. He also quantifies how both Oregon and Washington have a track record of failure in projecting project costs, and if the track record of ODOT and WSDOT serves as a guide, the CRC project will be 30-200% over budget. The resulting difference between the projected and actual cost of the project will have to be shared by Ore. and Wash. taxpayers.
John Charles, President and CEO of Cascade Policy Institute and self-identified lifelong transit rider, is baffled by the light rail component--a huge part of the project that nobody seems to want to talk about. In about 10 minutes, he clearly articulates the benefits of bus service vs. light rail. He outlines the reality crevasse that separates bus and light rail. In his presentation, buses win hands down by providing better service at an astronomically lower cost. He concludes the light rail costs buried in the CRC project are aimed at bailing out the failing Ore. light rail system.
Tiffany Couch, CPA/CFF, CFE and Principal of Acuity Group is a professional forensic accountant. She has spent the past two years wading through public records requests and data dumps provided by the CRC project. She has identified numerous questionable accounting practices including $20 million in journal entries that remain unexplained by the CRC project. She’s willing to say these are huge red flags in the accounting world and has called for an investigation.
If you’ve been following the CRC project for any time, the forum last night raised little, if any, new questions. The biggest unanswered question was, Will legislators ignore the warning signs, and choose to fund a project that has so much uncertainty? That question was answered at least partially earlier yesterday when the Oregon house passed by a large margin a measure that funds their $450 million share of the project down payment. The Washington state legislature is considering a gas tax increase that will bring another $450 million to the project.