The Reflector’s Dec. 19 article titled “Interstate 5 bridge replacement expected to cost $6 billion” only told part of the story. This continues to be nothing more than a light rail project in search of a bridge, just like the failed Columbia River Crossing.
For the past two years, the Interstate Bridge Replacement (IBR) team, led by Greg Johnson, has told multiple half-truths to citizens and legislators. When questioned about the veracity of their information, they either don’t answer, or deflect.
In December, the IBR lied or misled legislators. Economist Joe Cortright (City Observatory) called out the most egregious lie regarding the exploding costs of the project. Program administrator Johnson blamed “inflation” for the huge cost increase. But that is not true, as Cortright told legislators in citizen comments.
Two years ago, the IBR team provided updated cost estimates in a range of $3.2 billion to $4.8 billion. All estimates were inflated to “year of expenditure” during the 2025 to 2032 construction timeframe. Cortright estimates updated inflation can only account for $300 million of the increase. Simply blaming inflation is a lie, he said.
The question citizens should be asking is how long will Washington legislators Annette Cleveland, Lynda Wilson, Ann Rivers, Paul Harris, and Sharon Wylie, allow Johnson and his team to lie to them about the largest public works project in the region’s history?
But cost numbers are not the only lie. The IBR team has not been truthful about transit ridership projections. While some legislators called the 26,000 to 33,000 average daily transit riders on the I-5 corridor “wildly optimistic” over a year ago, zero data was provided to back up those numbers. Current C-Tran ridership is less than 1,000 riders on their I-5 and I-205 cross-river “express” bus service.
At the December meeting, IBR staff cut transit ridership by two thirds, down to 11,000 average daily riders (for 2045). C-Tran’s best numbers for cross-river transit ridership appear to be around 3,200 riders near the end of the great recession, a decade ago.
Administrator Johnson was questioned by Sen. Wilson when offering the 33,000 number roughly 18 months ago. “We did not pull these numbers out of the sky,” Johnson responded. Yet that is exactly what appears to have been the case.
The Washington Department of Transportation recently reported that only 0.4% of vehicles and people crossing the I-5 Interstate Bridge were on C-Tran buses in 2021. In 2020, C-Tran reported only 971 average daily boardings for their “express” bus lines, down from 3,040 in 2016. Note those numbers are for both I-5 and I-205 service.
C-Tran released its five-year Transit Development Plan in September. They project system ridership will return to only 75% of pre-pandemic levels by 2027.
Clearly, the 26,000 to 33,000 riders for the I-5 corridor was pure fantasy. Part of a lie used to try and justify the need for expensive MAX light rail on the bridge.
The real question is how long will Oregon and Washington legislators allow the lies to continue?
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