Leavitt, Stuart urge Herrera Beutler to back bridge

She first wants to know what people willing to pay for

By Andrea Damewood, Columbian staff writer

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Two days after the federal government gave its final approval to plans for the Columbia River Crossing, Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt and Clark County Commissioner Steve Stuart issued a statement Friday calling on Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler to do the same.

The federal Record of Decision, announced Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Transportation, gives the controversial Interstate 5 megaproject the green light to chase federal funding and start construction, which is slated for late 2013.

“We need our congresswoman to work positively and productively for this investment in job growth and economic prosperity,” Stuart said in the statement. “No more vague statements like, ‘We need this bridge — just not this bridge.’ This is the project. … It’s time that her rhetoric stop and thoughtful representation begin.”

Leavitt and Herrera Beutler exchanged terse letters earlier this year over her support for the CRC. She has said she has hopes for an I-5 bridge project, yet remains unsold on the plans as they stand now.

Herrera Beutler has been pressing C-Tran to hold a districtwide vote on a sales tax for light rail as soon as possible. Otherwise, she said, she may not be able to lobby for the $1.2 billion in federal funding needed for the $3.1 billion to $3.6 billion project.

“In order to get matching (federal) funds, we need to have a local match, and in order to get that local match, we need to have a local say,” Herrera Beutler said in July. “We need to have that vote, as broad as possible, get that out of the way and get this show on the road.”

Herrera Beutler’s spokesman, Casey Boman, released a written statement late Friday that said, “Jaime has been a consistent advocate for a replacement bridge, but she also knows that it will not succeed without the support of Clark County residents and the local funding piece in place. “

“Clark County residents are very important stakeholders in this process. For progress to be made, it’s vital to know what they want and what they are willing to pay for by holding a vote as soon as possible,” the statement said.

“Our congresswoman serves on the U.S. House Transportation Committee and could help make a positive difference for our region,” Leavitt said. “If she does not fight for federal funds for the I-5 bridge, the result could be an increase in our tolls here at the local level.”

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood praised the project — replacing the I-5 Bridge, five miles of interchange improvements, creating a bike and pedestrian deck, and extending light rail into downtown Vancouver — as a model of the kind of work the Obama administration would like to see built.

Leavitt also mentioned support from other Oregon and Washington leaders, including Washington Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, and Oregon Reps. Earl Blumenauer and Peter DeFazio, all Democrats.

“These leaders recognize that job creation begins with infrastructure development,” he said. “Now with a significant milestone achieved — issuance of the federal Record of Decision — we are again calling on our own congresswoman to advocate for this project and for real jobs in Southwest Washington.”

But the support of a Democratic president and lawmakers may not be motivation that Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, would find compelling.

Both Leavitt and Stuart publicly mulled running against Herrera Beutler in 2012 before deciding against it.

Andrea Damewood: 360-735-4542, http://facebook.com/reporterdamewood, http://twitter.com/col_cityhall or andrea.damewood@columbian.com.