Compared to places like, say, Eugene, Bend doesn’t see a lot of protest rallies and marches. In fact, they are pretty darn rare around these parts. So maybe that reason – we’re out of practice – is why fewer than 100 folks (not including numerous dogs) showed up Wednesday evening to state their loud “No! No! No!” opposition to the Southern River Crossing on the Sept. 18 advisory ballot.
The event was co-sponsored by Taxpayers Against the Bridge (http://www.taxpayersagainstthebridge.org) and the Juniper Group of the Sierra Club. Being held during workday hours, at a time of year when many people are off on vacation or enjoying the great outdoors, also may have had something to do with a thin (but vocal) crowd showing up, despite invitations issued far and wide. (The pro-SRX Committee to Bridge Our Community, by the way, said it plans a similar rally on Sept. 5, and will provide more details in coming days.)
“I have a lot of reasons why I’m against it (the bridge),” said Cort Vaughan, who said he’s written “a lot of letters to the editor” at The Bulletin, which also came in for its share of ribbing for its editorial stance in favor of the project. (One sign, carried by Mark Suzanne, marching with wife Suzanne and dog Aero, read, “Bull a Ton Lies,” while another said “the BULLetin should be banished to Burns.”)
“The primary reason” Vaughan said he’s against the bridge, is that “I really enjoy this section of the (Deschutes River) canyon the bridge is going to go through. And I think an elevated bridge carrying 15,000-plus cars a day is going to destroy the canyon.”
The other side, he said, offers “a lot of what appear to be logical reasons to build the bridge, but they are based on falsehoods and misconceptions.”
Marilyn Miller, conservation chairman of the Sierra Club’s Juniper Group, said she used to live in places like Eugene and LA where there were rallies and marches pretty much every week. But they are rare here, and “that’s really too bad,” she said. “The community feels helpless. It’s the developers against the people.”
’You can’t build your way out of traffic congestion’
“Once there’s a bridge there, they are going to think they could build even more,” she said. “You can’t build your way out of traffic congestion, it’s been shown time and again. … Growth is inevitable. I’d like to see them slow growth down, not build right up to the river. The wildlife needs it. Bend is going to continue to keep growing. We need to save what little we haven’t paved over.”
Miller’s husband, Craig, a retired ER doctor, has a similar perspective, as you can imagine, both as vice president of the Oregon Natural Desert Association and as a member of the Bend Birding Club. “Rivers sound better than traffic” was his slogan for the day.
Retired math teacher Dean Atwood was chatting amiably with Barbara Vail, who has the distinction of having lived in Bend since 1947. “I like to think of Bend like the days when I came here,” Vail said. Atwood said he’s heard all the arguments and believes “the bridge is unnecessary,” and will just add more pollution to the special area.”
Then there’s the 8 percent grade drivers will have to climb heading west to the Colorado/Century/Mt. Washington intersection. “No way in hell are you going to get truck drivers, fire trucks, garbage trucks, school buses or anything else to go up there,” Atwood said.
“This whole deal here is to increase the value of properties on both sides of the river, and values already are so high that middle-income folks can’t afford to live here, except in mobile home or RV parks or sharing a home.”
Jeremy Silver, 11, came to the rally on his own without his father, Scott, the well-known forest-fees fighter. He said the area is “beautiful, and if they put in the bridge, all the beauty will be gone.” Wendy Colby, a 13-year Bendite, said, “My feeling is, it (the bridge) supports the developers.”
Leading bridge foe says `Bend has a better future,’ urges saving city’s `heart and soul’
David Sheldon, chairman of the anti-bridge group, told the crowd that “the proponents are working very, very hard” to pass the measure, and “they have got a lot of money. They are good people. I don’t have hold it against them for their position. But I do say this: Bend has a better future.”
“What’s at stake here really isn’t just the river,” Sheldon said. “It’s the heart and soul of Bend.”
Local songwriter Judy Jordet sang a song she’d written for the occasion: “There are bridges built to bring us together … that make our spirits soar. There’s also bridges built to conquer … (and) to make a lot of money … to build a lot more houses … that taxpayers will pay for in the end.”
Louise Nicklas, treasurer of the bridge-fighting group, led the group in a traditional song: “Shall we gather by the river … that flows to the throne of God.”
Kids and dogs, city Councilor John Schubert, even pedi-cab driver Doug Werme joined in the short march from McKay Park across the Colorado Avenue footbridge, then on the bridge sidewalk back across the river.
“No! No! No!” Sheldon had the marchers shout.
Pro-, anti-bridge group leaders face off in radio debate
Eventually, most of the group lined the Colorado/Simpson interchange, now under construction with detours, and cheered every motorist’s honk of support. “Vote no bridge!” became the battle cry.
Earlier Wednesday, Sheldon and Bryant squared off in what they said was their fifth debate in recent days, this one taped for airing at the studio of KSJJ 103. Four stations will air the forum as R.L. Garrigus’ “Focus on Central Oregon” program on two consecutive Sunday mornings, Sept. 2 and Sept. 9. KSJJ will air the program at 6:30 a.m., while KXIX (X-94) will present it at 6 a.m.; the air time is 7 a.m. on KMGX (Magic 100.7) and KICE (ESPN Radio 940 AM).
Bryant said his group sees the bridge and Reed Market Road extension as “the best solution right now” to growing traffic congestion: “It’ll take 14,000 to 16,000 cars a day off our other bridges. It’s well designed, we have the right of way. It’s ready to go. It will provide a new park, similar to Drake Park. It’s a win-win situation.”
Sheldon said a no vote on all three questions (including both alignments) will send a “strong message to developers that this particular part of our river corridor through Bend deserves careful and very studious handling. … We have an opportunity to have a world-class park, with the access that’s needed, but without this through road and bridge that really depreciates the value and turns it into something like any city park.” He also claimed a “significant cost” won’t be covered by developer fees.
Sheldon said the study commissioned by the Friends of Bend analyzed options and said “widening of Colorado (Avenue) should happen first.” But Bryant said, “Other alternatives will be more expensive and disruptive to neighborhoods and businesses,” such as a five-lane Colorado.
Bryant also said that between the SDCs and a local improvement district, there will be “no taxpayer dollars” involved, and said the $3 million a year in SDCs can cover far more projects – “most on the Eastside” – than the cost of repaying developers for their “interest-free loan” to get the bridge built. But Sheldon said it still will divert dollars from other needs, such as improvements along Skyliner Road.
Pro-bridge group backs northern alignment, sees confusion over options
Bryant said his group favors the Northern Alignment, not only because of the estimated $1.1 million lower cost but for not removing six homes in Woodriver Village from its path. In fact, Bryant said he believes it was put on the advisory ballot “to confuse people and generate empathy, so folks vote against everything. I hope that doesn’t happen.”
Sheldon said his group “has no intention of tying this up or keeping people frustrated,” should the vote go the other way. He acknowledged urging several years ago that the project be delayed several years. “The issue then is the same as now: What is the highest, best use for this part of Bend?”
But Bryant asked: “If you wait five to 10 years, can you imagine how much it’ll cost?” He pointed to the two public votes on the Bend Parkway and the higher cost that resulted. He also acknowledged that the park district doesn’t have funds to develop the log deck park at present, but added, “I believe they’ll find the money to do that.”
And Bryant said many projects have been approved, based on the city council’s previously stated intention to build the bridge: “You are entitled to have some predictability from government.”
Sheldon said he hopes the council will “follow the advice of the people,” whatever that ends up being. And he said his group is “in favor of efficient and prudent management of public funds” on the many other transportation needs around town.