Friday, April 10, 2009

Meanwhile, bad ideas continue to percolate in background

The sales job to justify the already made (but, thankfully, far from funded) decision to destroy great chunks of minority-dominated housing areas of Northeast Salem and a big piece of West Salem for the convenience of motorized, nearly all-white commuters in Polk County with a third bridge over the Willamette in Salem proceeds apace.

"EIS" -- for those of you who don't speak the weird dialect of proto-English called Transjargon -- means "environmental impact statement." Originally intended to force governments to consider the environmental costs of proposed actions, they have become a cottage industry for consultants and a way to obscure the actual effects in a blizzard of mind-numbing jargon and hopeful assumptions totally unjustified by experience in other settings. Rather than being open-minded assessments, they are typically run as psuedo-studies where the inputs are carefully controlled to obtain the desired output decision. Here's some very telling language from a memo from the team working on this one:
First, the Draft EIS will assume that the future demand (year 2031) for vehicle trips across the river is 8% less than otherwise forecast. Basing the project design on a reduced traffic volume anticipates a high degree of success in increasing non-auto travel across the river and also helps prevent the project from being overbuilt.
So, note -- the selection of an entirely arbitrary figure for reduced vehicle trips that fails to account for the universal worldwide experience that paving drives driving -- that when you build more capacity, driving increases.
In short, taking this approach will enable us to (1) demonstrate fairly and conservatively the independent need for highway improvements even assuming a significant increase in the use of non-auto modes in the peak hours of operation;
In other words, we know we need a third bridge because we decided that a long time ago --- all that remains is jiggering the assumptions as needed to show "the independent need for highway improvements."

Note the one thing that none of the models used in these studies include: The price of gasoline and the global carbon dioxide concentration (which will, as it increases, necessititate ever more difficult measures to ameliorate all the prior investments in "business as usual" by the Highway Department").

And that's the key here, and the reason that this project will likely be derailed by a lawsuit if it keeps going down the path it's on now: the project team has refused to consider the effect of this spectactular and wasteful greenhouse generating project on the state's climate emission reduction goals.

Since the federal government is tiptoeing up to the unpleasant realization that CO2 is actually a pollutant that puts the environment at risk, one of these auto-bridge projects (the Columbia River Crossing megabridge or this one in Salem) is likely to serve as a perfect test case to force the State Highway Department to stop ignoring the rapidly mounting evidence that emissions have to come down radically.

So, as you're enjoying your $5 million budget cuts in Salem in 2009/10, take a moment to appreciate the high-priced consulting you're helping buy, to design a project that can never be built.
Dear Task Force and Oversight Team:

As we continue to work on the Salem River Crossing Draft EIS, we want to keep you apprised of recent developments and schedule highlights.

1. The Draft EIS is currently in the impacts analysis phase, which will result in a series of detailed technical reports. Over the summer and into the fall, we will write the Draft EIS itself, with agency review taking place during the remainder of the year. We are hoping to publish the Draft EIS in January next year (2010).

2. We expect to have at least one meeting each with the Task Force and Oversight Team in late summer or early fall to give you a summary of the technical reports and a preview of the Draft EIS. In the mean time, please watch for periodic email updates on the progress of the Draft EIS. (These will go to the general public too.)

3. We have finalized the approach to transit/TSM/TDM in the Draft EIS and would like to share that with you. Please see the attached memo from Dan Fricke and Julie Warncke, as well as the two background memos with further details.

4. We have made some minor updates to the project web site (including updating the information on schedule and the transit/TSM/TDM approach). We are currently making some minor adjustments to the graphics of the alternatives and will post those within the next month.

Please let us know if you have any questions or comments. Thank you.

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