Sunday, February 17, 2013

A Mid-Valley Vision Statement

The Salem City Council will hold their fourth work session on the Salem River Crossing this coming Tuesday at 5:30pm at the Broadway Commons. As our community continues to prepare to make a very important decision for our future, the Third Bridge Alliance would like everyone to consider one question.

What is our vision statement for transportation infrastructure?
For example, the Salem-Keizer School District's Vision Statement is that every student in the K-12 school system will graduate.

We believe an appropriate Third Bridge vision statement should be to take care of all of our region's transportation needs across the Willamette River for the next 30-50 years.

The data clearly shows that additional infrastructure across the Willamette River is needed to accommodate the growth of the Mid-Willamette Valley over the course of the next 30 years.

There is one alternative that is clearly the vision statement to accommodate the growth in transportation forecasting models and that is Alternative 4D. The component of 4D that is most important is the connection of a third bridge to Highway 22 infrastructure.

Let's review some of the concerns of 4D

1) 4D would be a monstrosity of concrete pillars and highway that consumes North Salem and West Salem's livability.
An elevated highway is included in the current 4D plan and it certainly would add a new transportation element to our community. Currently, the Salem City Council is looking at alternative options to an elevated highway. As long as there is direct connection to Highway 22 that provides transportation efficiencies, we can be confident we have adopted a plan that adequately addresses the costs of congestion to both residents and businesses. Without the direct connection, we run a major risk of clogging West Salem roadways and North Salem roadways with traffic that has no intention of stopping in Salem's residential neighborhoods. That traffic must be addressed to protect livability in both North and West Salem as well as downtown for generations to come.

2) 4D costs $800 million dollars according to those against a bridge. Who is going to pay for it?
The cost estimate for 4D is $687 million in 2015 dollars. This includes a 40% construction cost contingency  for unanticipated expenses. As a community we must remember that an adopted plan is a "vision statement" for the future. It does not mean the full 4D plan would be implemented in one massive construction project. The first phase of 4D would most likely look like the other alternative being discussed, 4A, which is a third bridge option that provides a more local solution to local traffic but doesn't address the very important regional connection that will be necessary based on transportation forecasting models. The first phase of 4D would most likely cost $200 million and take place within the next 6-8 years. With regional partners, the price tag of various phases is doable and could be accomplished with a commitment to collaboration.

3) Why don't we adopt 4A now and wait until later to see if we need 4D? I'm not sure I agree that we will see the population growth that others are saying we will see in the next 30 years.
If we don't adopt our "vision statement" for the third bridge, we have to go through the entire Environmental Impact Study process again which costs taxpayers millions of dollars and years of staff time and consultant costs. The millions of dollars we have already spent as taxpayers makes it very clear that 4D is the option that will take care of our congestion issues based on transportation forecasting models. If 4D is adopted, it includes buy in from regional partners, and also provides Salem the flexibility it needs to approach transportation improvements in phases. If we only adopt 4A and then the growth projections are accurate, we are in trouble. Not only would we spend millions of dollars more, we will also have to start the Environmental Impact Study process all over again which would take years to accomplish. City Councilor Warren Bednarz has already been involved in the current planning process with other committed community members for the past 6 years. Imagine the headaches if we are forced to start all over again because of our inability to envision our region beyond a 4A local bridge.

4) I understand what you're saying but I really don't think the region will see the growth that is being forecasted. Shouldn't that change our approach now?
Let's say growth projections in 20 years don't actually come to fruition until the 30 year mark. This 10 year gap in projection makes little difference when planning major transportation projects like the third bridge. The important thing to remember is that the growth will come. The real question is will we be prepared for it or will we decide not to act? If we choose the latter, it has major implications on our livability as a community.

5) I keep on hearing that the third bridge is so important to our economy. Where is the data that supports that? Has the City done any type of economic impact study in addition to the environmental impact study? I also heard that the third bridge would displace 65 to 75 businesses who employ approximately 500 people with total annual sales of approximately $75 million. What message are we sending businesses and residents by placing a bridge on top of their current location?
Major transportation projects bring both short term and long term impacts on regional economies. Salem is a hub of economic activity for Marion and Polk counties. Our competitiveness is dependent on efficient transportation and congestion threatens the economic vitality of our region now and into the future.

For those businesses and residents that would be displaced by a new bridge, it will be extremely important that a collaborative team approach be taken to assist both businesses and residents with relocation. The costs of a third bridge as well as any major transportation projects include of the costs of property acquisition. A contingency of 40% is included intentionally to ensure the project adequately compensates both residents and businesses for the purchase of their property.

Improved infrastructure connecting Interstate 5 to the north and Highway 22 to the west would result in the following economic efficiencies:
  • Reduced fuel costs to transport products within the Marion/Polk market area
  • Reduced labor costs to transport products within the Marion/Polk market area
  • Improvements in productivity
  • Decreases in inventory
Withouth improved infrastructure, growth projections will put businesses within the region at a competitive disadvantage and we run the risk of losing employers to other locations. With a collaborative approach to relocating businesses and residents impacted in the short term, we can prepare our region for long term economic vitality.