U.S. Sen. Patty Murray praised Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire and Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber on Monday for moving ahead with a decision on the design of a new Interstate 5 bridge over the Columbia River.
“This is an important milestone, and it has been reached thanks to real collaboration between both states and the federal government,” said Murray, D-Wash., whose support is key to winning federal funding for the project. She chairs the Senate Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee.
It’s important, she said in statement, “because this bridge is not just a regional imperative, it’s also a national priority that deserves a strong federal investment.”
Murray recently warned leaders in both states that they must reach consensus on the project soon or risk missing out on the next funding cycle for federal transportation dollars. At stake is $400 million in federal highway construction funding and $850 million in Federal Transit Administration funding for an extension of light rail into Vancouver.
“As I have said all along, I stand ready to fight for the funding this project needs in Washington, D.C., and the local families, businesses and commuters who will benefit from a new bridge,” Murray said.
U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, called Monday’s announcement “an important step in this critical Southwest Washington project,” but added, “I hope the public will see a detailed finance plan soon, including full information on tolling levels.
“I believe we need a new bridge, but the design must pencil out, and I won’t support the project if Southwest Washington residents are saddled with a disproportionate share of the costs,” she said. “I’m looking forward to a detailed and independently-reviewed finance plan. The citizens of Southwest Washington deserve no less. How we fund this bridge will have as significant an impact on our economy as the new bridge itself.”
Herrera Beutler sits on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and brought the committee to Vancouver in February to take public comment on transportation priorities.
U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., said the governors “should be commended for stepping back and looking at this project from a fresh angle.”
“They have worked to address many community concerns, including congestion, the region’s livability, job opportunities and a stronger economy,” Merkley said in a statement. “I’m confident they will continue working to develop both the construction plan and the associated financial plan and I look forward to working in partnership to move the project forward.”
Murray spokesman Matt McAlvanah said his boss “is going to look for every possible avenue for funding” the project, including so-called “Tiger Grants” for transportation projects of major regional importance, originally funded in the federal stimulus act.
‘“Every avenue of funding is on the table,” he said.
But he said the majority of the federal government’s share of the project likely will come through the next multi-year Surface Transportation Act. “There’s ongoing debate about the exact parameters” of that funding bill, he said.
State Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, said he’s confident Washington will find a way to pay for its share of the project despite the state’s severe budget crunch. “I’m very thankful we’re going to stay on budget and on time as much as possible,” he said. “We can’t afford to mess up.”
The two states have different goals for the project, Moeller observed. While Oregon’s focus is on a multi-modal project that accommodates pedestrians, cyclists and light rail, he said, Clark County residents just want to get across the river. “Sixty thousand of my constituents cross the bridge every day.”
Andrea Damewood of The Columbian contributed to this report.