In her last four months in office, Salem Mayor Anna Peterson plans to insert plans for the 3rd Bridge (aka Salem River Crossing Preferred Alternative) into the Salem Transportation System Plan and Comprehensive Plan. Formally adopting the plan in this way is the next step in the decade-long process to complete an Environmental Impact Statement approved by the Federal Highway Administration that would allow the project to be built and to qualify for state and federal funding.
For the past 19 months the plans have been on the back burner. The Salem River Crossing Oversight Team has not even met since December of 2014. The last time the Council looked at the plans was in November of 2014 when three of the current Councilors had not even taken their seats yet, having just been elected.
So why the rush all of a sudden to formally adopt the plan? The answer is simple. In January, Peterson will be gone, and three new progressive Councilors, all of whom ran against the 3rd Bridge in their campaigns this year will take their seats.
They will join Councilor Tom Andersen who won his seat in 2014 in no small part because of his opposition to the 3rd Bridge. So in January the Council will be split between four foes of the 3rd Bridge and four supporters. Mayor-elect Bennett is a 3rd Bridge supporter, and could swing a vote next year in favor of the plan. But Peterson probably doesn’t want to take a chance. She probably already has the votes lined up for approving the plan before she leaves office.
Mayor Peterson may succeed in her scheme, but it’s the wrong thing to do. The victories of Tom Andersen, Cara Kaser, Matt Ausec and Sally Cook all show that public support for the 3rd Bridge is very low. All of them campaigned against opponents who supported the 3rd Bridge. Three of them had big blow-out victories which may have had a lot to do with their opposition to the 3rd Bridge.
A better, more democratic and less authoritarian course of action would be to let the new Council that represents the will of Salem voters decide what to do about the 3rd Bridge in 2017. How about doing some polling to find out if Salem citizens really want to put the 3rd Bridge in our Transportation System plan? How about some polling to find out if Salem citizens want to pay for a 3rd Bridge before we put it in our Transportation System Plan?
The only reason for a rush to judgment on the 3rd Bridge is to foist something on Salem that the majority of us probably don’t want.