On November 28th the Oregon Department of Transportation updated their Salem River Crossing website to show their latest schedule for planning the 3rd Bridge in Salem. This is just the latest of many revisions to the schedule since the planning project began in 2006. The latest revision pushes out project completion until July of next year with a final Record of Decision (ROD) from the Federal Highway Administration. The last version of the schedule showed completion of the Final Environmental Impact Statement coming at the end of 2017, but the new schedule pushes that out until May of 2018.
The new schedule doesn’t appear to take into account the decision of the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals last August. LUBA ruled in favor of a group of Salem-area citizens who found fault with the land use actions taken by the Salem City Council in December, 2016. The LUBA decision essentially voided the actions to expand the Urban Growth Boundary to accommodate the footprint of the 3rd Bridge and to add plans for the 3rd Bridge to the Salem Transportation System Plan and Comprehensive Plan. Without the land use actions the Final Environmental Impact statement cannot move forward.
The new schedule shows the “Local Land Use Analysis and Amendment/Adoption Process” happening now. But it is not happening. That is because in 2017 four new Salem City Councilors who oppose the 3rd Bridge have taken their seats. In January Sally Cook, Cara Kaser and Matt Ausec joined Tom Andersen, a long-time bridge opponent. In March, Chris Hoy, who also ran on an anti-bridge platform, won another seat on the Council. So there is now a five-member anti-bridge majority on the Council who appear to have no intention of restarting the land use process for the 3rd Bridge.
In the meantime ODOT is still spending money on consultants who are presumably working on elements of the Final Environmental Impact Statement. In response to a public records request, ODOT reported spending $98,226 just since July 1 on 3rd Bridge planning consultants. That amount pushed the total costs for consulting since the project began to $8,023,620.
“We believe the responsible thing to do would be for ODOT to suspend the Salem River Crossing Project and quit spending money on it,” said Robert Cortright, the spokesperson for the appellants in the LUBA case. “This is money that could be spent on other worthwhile transportation projects in Salem. It is wasteful for ODOT to be spending money on a project that has lost political support and has no future.”