Mayor Tim ‘the Liar’ Leavitt is once again relying on another campaign of deception to ramp up the fearmongering to sell the Columbia River Crossing light rail project.
As we all know, the CRC light rail project has been a very contentious and bloated project to force Clark County into accepting an over-priced bridge replacement designed solely to carry the light rail Clark County voters have rejected numerous times from Portland.
The project was seen as having no chance of survival, thanks to the work of the Majority Coalition in Olympia, especially that of Sens. Ann Rivers, Don Benton and Curtis King.
But then the I-5 Bridge over the Skagit River collapsed after a semi-truck with an oversized load struck 10 critical structural beams and proponents began an intense campaign of fearmongering, falsely comparing the two bridges, the one in Skagit County up north and the twin spans the CRC light rail project hoped to replace down here in Clark County.
Like others, not letting a good crisis go to waste, Leavitt joined in the parade of fearmongers, penning a letter directly to the legislature encouraging them to fund the massive light rail project and, relying on his employment as a “Professional Engineer,” lays it on pretty thick in an attempt to convince the legislature the bridge is ready to collapse, even though his engineering degree is in “Environmental Engineering” and not Structural Engineering.
From that letter linked above we read,
“You are all no doubt aware the Columbia River I-5 crossings at Vancouver have been rated ‘fracture critical’. As a professional engineer I would like to share more detail that may clarify the severity of this rating.”
In the next paragraph he writes,
“The point is, the Skagit River bridge collapse is an ominous reminder that failures do occur, often with catastrophic results.” (emphasis in original)
Right off the bat you can see his effort is to fearmonger by use of the dubious engineering term “fracture critical,” a scary sounding term that actually means little in regards to a bridge collapsing due to age, but that the design of the time left a structure without redundant structural support as we build today.
The one point he leaves out is the fact of an oversized load hitting those 10 structural supports is credited with causing the collapse.
I did a little digging on bridge collapses in America and found that since the collapse of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge (Galloping Gertie) in 1940, there has been 40 collapses of bridges in our country for various reasons.
Of those 40 collapses, two were caused by heavy trucks, the one recently in Skagit County, Washington and the Harp Road Bridge in Oakville, Washington that collapsed under the weight of a truck hauling an excavator in August 2007.
Two others were the result of tanker trucks that were involved in accidents and caught fire, softening the steel holding up those bridges.
But 10 of those 40 collapses have been the result of a collision from water vessels. One fourth of all bridge collapses in America since 1940 has been caused by some sort of impact from waterborne vessels, ships or barges.
This is a point Leavitt leaves out of his attempted fearmongering, largely I imagine due to his support of a reduced clearance bridge to accommodate light rail, it being unable to climb a steeper grade and the design of it running along a second lower tier under the main bridge.
“While it is virtually impossible for a Mega Project like this to appeal to everyone, the current bridge replacement strategy is a sound project endorsed by local, regional and federal agencies at every political process step, and it will serve our region for decades to come.”
Again, he leaves out that voters have rejected the light rail when allowed to vote, his own efforts to seek a way to bypass voters to approve funding of light rail and that every alternative put forth wasn’t even given serious consideration, again due to the sole position of demanding light rail be forced into Clark County.
He says how this new bridge will serve the region for decades, but once again leaves out those businesses upriver that will see reductions in their ability to meet customer needs by being unable to ship large items they manufacture under a lower bridge that is currently being “mitigated” to provide tax dollars to make up for lost profits as well as relocate if need be.
But going back to his concern of a collapsing bridge, the current span provides 178 feet of clearance when the lift spans are raised. The replacement design initially called for 95 feet and was raised to 116 feet when the river is at its lowest level. As we saw in 1996, the river is prone to flood occasionally and we also see a rise in the level of the river every year as the spring run-off from the mountains fills it to capacity and above at times.
But Leavitt and other proponents aren’t worried about a barge or other craft colliding with a reduced clearance bridge even though, as I showed above, the likelihood of a water vessel collision is greater than that of a land based vehicle causing such a failure.
“The Skagit River I-5 bridge collapse was a terrible accident that could have resulted in deadly consequences, but this incident can have a broader, positive impact if we recognize it as a wake-up call about just how vulnerable some of our bridges in Washington State are. In the case of the Columbia River Crossing, every day we delay moving forward with a replacement bridge we are putting our people at risk.”
Again, absolutely no concern over river traffic colliding with a ‘Bridge Too Low’ or the potential of a catastrophic collapse and subsequent deaths from that. Just the usual ‘hurry up, we got to get this going.’
Even more ironic and not included in Leavitt’s letter, the sticking point on this whole project is the light rail that he also supports and refuses to oppose, agreeing with claims made by Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber, “no light rail, no bridge.”
Where is the concern for anybodies safety in that? If, as they keep crying now, the Skagit River Bridge collapse is a “wake up call,” why do they still hold a replacement bridge hostage to light rail? If they were truly concerned about easing congestion, improving safety and freight mobility, would they hold a new bridge hostage to light rail that requires a new replacement bridge to have an unsafe clearance for river traffic, making the new bridge even more susceptible to a catastrophic failure should it suffer a collision with a river barge when the water level is higher?
Leavitt sent this letter just before the Willamette Week ran their article, Washington Republicans: Columbia River Crossing is Dead.
Apparently, proponents such as ‘Lair’ Leavitt, Governor Jay Inslee and others don’t believe it and will keep fearmongering and pressuring with tales of woe and dire predictions of eminent collapse, ignoring that what they have designed is even more prone to catastrophic failure.
But, when the only concern is light rail and nothing else, the blinders go up and the people are left holding the bag.
You would think someone claiming the expertise of a “Professional Engineer” like Leavitt does would be able to see this folly and wouldn’t need it pointed out by a retired auto mechanic.
UPDATE: September 27, 2013 saw another near tragedy occur in Jacksonville, Florida as a US Navy vessel under tow for repairs impacted the Matthews Bridge with a 150 foot clearance, closing that bridge indefinitely to accommodate repairs.
Our area was instrumental in ship building during WW2 and should another Pacific War flare-up and our location be needed to repeat the WW2 feat, we will be left out in the cold due to the imposition of a bridge with only 116 foot clearance when the river is at it’s lowest.