The Very Revealing Light Of A Sunny Day In Vancouver, WA

Saturday, June 4, 2011, was sunny, with temps in the upper 80s in Vancouver, WA … our first 80 degree day since October 6, 2010. In spite of that, a dedicated group of community-minded Vancouver citizens willingly sacrificed four to five hours of that precious time to attend Bridging The Gaps, an opportunity to be enlightened and to be heard on the topic of the proposed CRC Light Rail Crossing Project … the biggest public works undertaking in the history of the community.

Sadly, Vancouver’s Mayor, Tim Leavitt and the majority of elected officials invited to attend Bridging The Gaps, didn’t join their constituents at this meeting. In Mayor Leavitt’s case, I knew that he had posted an update on Facebook about the day’s great weather and stating that he would be “cruising around town, enjoying our beautiful open spaces and trails.” My initial thought on this was, “How sad, when a group of folks Leavitt is sworn to represent are willing to sacrifice a big chunk of their first summer-like day for the sake of the community, their Mayor is unwilling to do likewise.” I was very disappointed to see Mayor Leavitt use this “Sunny Day Excuse” as his latest rationale for not hearing and responding to the will of the people. Going into Saturday’s event, I continued to wonder about this ongoing attitude on Leavitt’s part and frankly, I was baffled by it. Coming out of this meeting, however, I thought I was finally beginning to understand. Based on the information presented at Bridging The Gaps, I don’t think it was the sunlight that led Mayor Leavitt and other elected officials to remain outside. The expert presentations at Bridging The Gaps were very revealing. This included a number of stunning questions related to the accountability of the CRC Light Rail Crossing Project. I believe it was this revealing light of truth that frightened the delinquent elected officials away from Saturday’s meeting.

Before going on, I want to encourage you to view the recorded presentations from Bridging The Gaps at http://couv.com/. According to COUV.COM, these will be available late Monday, June 6th. Please check them out and come to your own conclusions. Although I don’t intend to provide a “blow by blow” report on Bridging The Gaps, I do want to draw your attention to some of the presentation points that hit home the hardest with me.

For me, the most revealing presentation was made by Tiffany Couch, Founder of Acuity Group, a forensic accounting firm. Ms. Couch was hired by local businessman David Madore, the host and sponsor of Bridging The Gaps, to help him try to make sense of a blizzard of documents he received from the CRC Light Rail Crossing Project, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. Based on the review of these documents and details of related meetings with CRC officials, it appears that there has been little oversight of this project and that many basic accountability practices have not been followed. These include:

– CRC is unable to produce several essential accounting reports. Here are their replies regarding the reports requested:

o Total CRC Funding, By Source – NO REPLY.

o Total CRC Expenditures – PARTIAL REPLY.

o Project Deliverables – “DOES NOT EXIST”.

o Financial Statements – “DOES NOT EXIST”.

o Benchmark Costs of Newly Built Overpasses – NO REPLY.

o Master Vendor List – NO REPLY.

o Audit Reports – “NO AUDITS PERFORMED”.

– WSDOT’s report of expenditures for CRC:

o Total $108 Million.

o $15 Million not coded to a vendor name.

o $38 Million not coded with a specific purpose (e.g. rent expense, engineering expense, etc.)

o $77 Million has gone to a single vendor – David Evans and Associates.

If you’re astonished by this, I’m with you. Thankfully, we’re not alone. One of the few elected officials in attendance was State Representative Ed Orcutt (WA-18). His response to this presentation was that he will be calling the State Auditor on this and possibly, the State Attorney General.

When you check out the Bridging The Gaps videos at http://couv.com/, you’ll find more revealing information from:

– John Charles, President and CEO of Cascade Policy Institute – On the CRC, as a Light Rail Project, not a Bridge Project.

– Joe Cortright, President and Principal Economist of Impresa – On the $10 Billion price tag for this project plus its inaccurate forecasting and other financial risks.

– Paul Guppy, Vice President for Research of Washington Policy Center – On how this project serves the interests of the government agencies involved but not the interests of citizen mobility.

Furthermore, when you check out the Bridging The Gaps videos at http://couv.com/, you’ll discover that proposals for a 3rd and a 4th bridge were presented. These bridges could be included in an alternative plan that’s vastly superior to the proposed CRC Light Rail Crossing Project. And, this stands as proof-positive that the folks behind Bridging The Gaps aren’t anti-bridge. They are just opposed to the proposed CRC Light Rail Crossing Project.

Although I’ve lamented the lack of attendance of elected officials at this event, I do want to acknowledge and express my appreciation for those who did attend. As mentioned above, State Representative Ed Orcutt (WA-18) was present. He is encouraging a county-wide vote on the proposed CRC Light Rail Crossing Project. Beyond his comment in response to Tiffany Couch’s presentation, the concerns he expressed about the CRC included:

– Having just two bridges makes no sense.

– The tolling plan for the proposed project is disproportionate for Washington residents.

– Light Rail just takes up space.

The following two photos are a great illustration of this last comment by Orcutt:

The first photo depicts I-84 during the morning commute. You’ll note the area to the right of the road that is taken up by The MAX, Portland’s Light Rail. That area was originally set aside for freeway lane expansion. Now, there is nowhere left to expand the freeway and you’ll note that there isn’t a MAX train anywhere in sight.

The second photo shows where I-84 feeds into I-205, during the afternoon commute. If you look at the feeder roads, you’ll note that traffic is backed up beyond sight. And, you’ll note the area in the middle of I-205 that is taken up by The MAX. Here too, this is space that was originally allocated for freeway lane expansion. Now, here too, there is nowhere left to expand the freeway and, again, there isn’t a MAX train anywhere in sight.

In addition to Ed Orcutt, State Representative Paul Harris (WA-17) and Tom Mielke, Chairman, Board of Clark County (WA) Commissioners, were in attendance. Thankfully, the citizens of our community have been able to rely on these public servants to join us in speaking out with their concerns on the proposed CRC Light Rail Crossing Project.

In closing, I want to get behind two admonitions given at Bridging The Gaps:

One admonition came from David Madore, the event’s host and sponsor. He said, on this topic, it is time (for you) to move from Spectator to Participant. And he said, if you don’t, this (tyrannical boondoggle) will become a reality. I believe he is dead right.

The other admonition came from George Golden, who gave the Benediction at the outset of Bridging The Gaps. He said, accomplishing good things requires honesty and courage. Especially considering the information presented by Tiffany Couch, I don’t believe we can rely on those supporting the proposed CRC Light Rail Crossing Project for honesty. And while we may sometimes be baffled by their seemingly bold actions, those actions can’t be called courageous. When looking for honesty and courage, we won’t find it if we don’t see it when we look in the mirror. Find yours and bring it to the next meeting. See ya there!