Herrera Beutler's support of CRC hinges on solid financing plan

By Kathie Durbin, Columbian staff writer

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U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler’s spokesman said Thursday that the Columbia River Crossing needs to “get its ducks in a row” with a realistic financing plan if it hopes to win the congresswoman’s support for a significant federal contribution to the project.

Through her spokesman, Casey Bowman, the Camas Republican took note of mounting questions about the funding plan for the project. On Wednesday, Oregon State Treasurer Ted Wheeler released a report that indicates bridge tolls, expected to provide a $1.3 billion local match for the project, may fall short by up to $598 million, due in part to a failure to account for reduced traffic on the Interstate 5 span.

CRC Director Nancy Boyd said Wednesday that her office was reviewing the treasurer’s report but said it was “good input” and would make the CRC’s plans “more realistic in the face of changing economic times.”

“If there is to be any hope of a serious federal commitment, the CRC needs to get its ducks in a row,” Bowman said in an email. “We need to move forward with a districtwide vote on light rail, and Jaime does not believe the current finance plan would stand up to an investment grade analysis. Both the Washington and Oregon Treasurers have raised very legitimate concerns about the finance plan, and they need to be answered.”

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, on which Herrera Beutler serves, has not yet seen a new six-year federal transportation authorization bill. But Bowman said it’s clear that money will be tight for federal projects going forward.

“As we’ve been saying for months, federal funding for transportation projects is very difficult to find in this budgetary environment,” he said. “Congress is looking to cut costs everywhere, and there will almost certainly be less money in a surface transportation reauthorization bill. Jaime has been consistent in her belief that the federal government should play a significant role in funding a replacement bridge. That hasn’t changed; she knows replacing the current bridge is a priority for the region.”

But Bowman said his boss “still has very serious unanswered questions about the other funding sources for this bridge replacement. It’s good that these questions are now coming to light because until they are answered, her ability to secure federal funding for a replacement bridge is seriously hindered.”

At a February field hearing of the Transportation Committee in Vancouver, Herrera Beutler said she would not support a new bridge “at any cost” and called for an independent review of the financing plan for the project.

“How we fund this bridge will have as significant an impact on our economy as the new bridge itself,” she said then. “We must get this right. If we do, future generations will enjoy the benefit of our hard work through safety, increased through-put and an improved economy. If we get this wrong, future generations will be saddled with paying for a bridge that, at best, would not meet their needs, and at worst, would have a disastrous impact on our economy.”