EDITORIAL: A breaking point

Lawmakers allow plans for Wash. bridge to collapse

August 09, 2013

Break. Break! BREAK!”

My 7-year-old son could not bear the pain anymore, and he just wanted something to give, and if that didn’t happen he just wanted a pause.

However, we were almost halfway through this spine-pulling ordeal, and I was not about to adhere to the break in the action, so I kept tugging and twisting and doing anything to get the event (which was new and quickly becoming routine) to end. With his skull still in between my hands I started to hear the faint sound of his shaved head peeling away from the plastic.

“Aidan, I think we finally got it!”

And with one final controlled, coordinated lift it was over.

His football helmet was off.

As soon as air hit the scalp he let out an agonizing, “Aaaaaah,” followed by one of relief, “Aaaaaaaaaah.”

Now, since Aidan’s skullcap is brand new I am hoping the whole on-off process will turn much easier, but sometimes in order to be safe you have to withstand some bouts of discomfort.

There are officials in the state of Washington who have been battling an ongoing headache known as the Columbia River Crossing (CRC), and in July all of the plans were ripped off . . . and ripped up. Lawmakers failed to pass a $10 billion transportation-funding package that called for a 10-cent increase in the state gas tax, and in the process they piled about 10 lb of explosives on plans for a new span across the Columbia River between Portland, Ore., and Vancouver, Wash., and pushed down on the ignition box. A few politicians shrieked in terror, but a lot of them let out that soothing, “Aaaaaaaaaah.”

To get from Oregon to Washington motorists will have to continue using the rickety twin steel vertical lift bridges, which hold up I-5. To deal with future congestion and a structure quickly making its way down the path of failure, the construction of another bridge was virtually unavoidable. In fact, the task was so important in 2008 President George W. Bush and then-Transportation Secretary Mary Peters practically made the project royalty by granting it national priority status.

However, those who think they are kings at the local level quickly turned the process of building a bridge into a Republican/Democratic-led disaster. At the peak of this legislative laugher was the battle over what type of bridge should be stretched across the Columbia River. Since lawmakers were tied up in political ineptitude, a design consultant had to be brought in to produce cheaper options.

Yet after all of the pulling, all of the twisting and all of the shouts of “stop” and “go,” the commuters are left with nothing but the same corrosively challenged I-5 Bridge. Gone is a solution. Gone is the $175 million that would have been put into the new CRC. Closed is the window of opportunity in terms of funding help from the federal government, and I truly believe there is a group of authority figures in the Pacific Northwest who are tremendously relieved to see this project trashed. 

Those who make the decisions in Washington state were already strapped into this project, and instead of letting failure walk off with a promising transportation-funding package, they should have done everything to snatch it from the grips of abduction. Alternative financing has been discovered in Virginia and Maryland, and others have the navigation light pointed in the right direction. Washington State Rep. Paul Harris has vowed to restart the solution machine in 2014. Will that bring back all the time lost? Will that bring back the $175 million lost? Will that restore faith at the federal level? Aaaaaah, no. R&B

Bill Wilson
Bill Wilson
Bill Wilson

Bill Wilson is the editorial director of ROADS & BRIDGES magazine and has been covering the industry since 1999. He has won seven Robert F. Boger Awards for editorial excellence, including three in 2011. He also was the creator of the Top 10, Contractor's Choice Awards and Recycling Awards platforms, as well as ROADS & BRIDGES Live.

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