In May of last year three new City Councilors were elected, all of whom ran on a platform opposed to moving forward to complete planning on the 3rd Bridge. The three would take office in January, joining long-time 3rd Bridge opponent Tom Andersen. So half the Council would be anti-bridge, and might be in a position to stop progress on a Final Environmental Impact Statement which the Council had been working on for years.
What to do?
The answer was to rush, and to get as much done as possible before the new Councilors took office. The immediate need was to expand the Urban Growth Boundary for the path of the bridge and to add the project to the Transportation System Plan and Comprehensive Plan. The Council sprang into action in October and held one mega-public hearing bringing together all the inter-governmental partners in the project. Then they rushed through the needed land use actions at their second to last meeting in December.
Now this strategy has backfired on the remaining pro-bridge Councilors. On August 10th the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals ruled that the strict procedures required under Oregon law to expand an Urban Growth Boundary and pass related land use actions were not followed to the letter. They have remanded the December actions back to the Council to fix.
But now we have a new Council. And they were joined in March by yet another anti-bridge Councilor, Chris Hoy, who defeated pro-bridge Gregg Peterson and two other candidates to replace pro-Bridge Daniel Benjamin who had resigned his seat in November. That makes a five-member Council majority opposed to the Salem River Crossing Project. They already flexed their muscles in April when they voted down an agreement with the Department of Land Conservation and Development that would have moved the project forward.
So now it’s time for enlightened leadership to end an ill-conceived and badly managed planning project that has dragged on for 11 years at a cost of nearly $8 million for consultants alone, not to mention the hundreds of hours of staff time and Council time that have kept a bad idea alive.
Everyone should respect the fact that the last five candidates elected to the Salem City Council ran against the 3rd Bridge. All of them defeated candidates who were for the 3rd Bridge. Elections should have consequences. The majority in five of the eight wards in Salem showed by electing these Councilors that they are not in favor of a 3rd Bridge.
It’s time for all of the City Councilors and the Mayor to hear the voice of the majority and bring this sad chapter in Salem’s history to a close.
Once that is done, we’ll need the Council’s leadership to move on and pursue more realistic and affordable solutions to our peak hour traffic congestion problems downtown and in West Salem. Two opportunities present themselves with the passage of the transportation package by the Legislature just a few weeks ago. The package not only includes significant new funding for Cherriots, it includes funding for a seismic retrofit and possible other design improvements to the Center Street Bridge.
Our City Council needs to now focus on those two opportunities, along with other potential solutions, after they pull the plug on the 3rd Bridge.