In the midst of a special legislative session defined by budget woes, a Friday meeting at the state Capitol Building in Olympia will divert for a topic that could help shape a future session — the Columbia River Crossing.
Rep. Mike Armstrong, R-Wenatchee, pulled together the gathering for a simple reason: to get everyone on the “same page” around the more than $3 billion project well along in planning, he said.
“I’ve been hearing a lot of different issues coming out of that project down there,” said Armstrong, the ranking Republican member of the House Transportation Committee. “I decided it would be ben
eficial to pull everybody together in a room and have a conversation.”
The meeting — a gathering with no formal agenda, not listed on any formal committee schedule — will include legislators from both parties and state transportation officials, Armstrong said. CRC spokeswoman Anne Pressentin said project director Nancy Boyd was also invited and will attend.
Armstrong called the CRC a “necessary project.” Plans sent to federal officials earlier this year would replace the aging Interstate 5 Bridge connecting Vancouver and Portland, rebuild Interstate 5 on both sides of the Columbia River and extend light rail into downtown Vancouver.
But the Wenatchee Republican cited several continuing concerns he’s heard swirling around the CRC. The list likely sounds familiar to Vancouver residents: the alignment of the new bridge, how tolling the span should help pay for it, and how light rail would fit in downtown Vancouver, among others.
Controversy and questions have continued to dog the megaproject that settled on a preferred plan more than three years ago. Planners and leaders from both states will have to work those issues out for the CRC to get off the ground, Armstrong said.
“I think everybody’s just kind of going their own direction,” Armstrong said. “We’ve got to start getting people working in the same direction.”
Friday’s gathering will include at least one dissenting voice in bridge architect Kevin Peterson, who began pushing for an alternative design last year — well after the preferred concept was chosen by local leaders. Peterson, who lives on San Juan Island, supports putting the new bridge just east of the existing span, essentially straightening out the S-curve approach to the bridge’s north side. The CRC’s preferred plan would bend a new bridge west of the existing span.
Peterson said his option would save property, save money and save lives by reducing traffic crashes. His double-deck, single-bridge proposal would use a separate “collector-distributor” roadway underneath for vehicles using exits near both shores. Pass-through freeway traffic would flow unaffected, he said. The idea hasn’t gained traction with CRC planners, but turned enough heads that Peterson was invited to present it to the Bridge Expert Review Panel last year.
Peterson said CRC project officials “did nothing” to seriously consider his proposal. Pressentin said planners looked at it, and determined it is not viable partly because of potential impacts to Vancouver’s historic reserves and Pearson Field. And CRC planners aren’t sold that the collector-distributor model would be more efficient based on current traffic patterns, she said.
Peterson said he feels his idea hasn’t gotten a legitimate look, and hopes to add to Friday’s discussion.
“My interest is simply to make sure the public does have the benefit of knowing what the choices are,” Peterson said.
Also planning to attend Friday’s meeting is Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, who sits on the House Transportation Committee with Armstrong. With questions and misconceptions surrounding the CRC, Moeller said he hopes an open discussion will clear some things up. The wider range of perspectives, he said, the better.
“I think it’s all good,” Moeller said. “We need to have as many voices at the table that want to see our community get ahead.”
Both the Washington and Oregon legislatures will need to find money to jointly cover about a third of the project’s price tag. That’s not likely to happen in Olympia this year or next — “we don’t have any money,” Moeller said — but could become a key issue of the Legislature’s regular 2013 session. Federal funding and toll revenue is expected to cover the rest of the project’s cost.
As for Friday, Pressentin said she hoped the gathering would help answer questions. The meeting will start at 1 p.m. in the House Republican caucus, just off the House floor, though Armstrong characterized it as a bipartisan affair.
“Transportation is a bipartisan issue,” he said. “Everybody uses roads.”