New focus on road funding may help to build bridge

By Andrea Damewood, Columbian staff writer

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President Barack Obama’s Thursday speech calling for a $140 billion infusion into America’s roads, bridges and schools as part of a larger proposed $450 billion bid to create jobs was welcome news for the Columbia River Crossing.

Details on plans won’t start filtering out until next week, the White House said, but project officials said Friday they’ll be waiting with anticipation to see what federal money they may be able to go after.

“We’re excited about the prospects for federal funds to get people back to work,” CRC spokeswoman Anne Pressentin said. “Federal funding is part of the finance plan, so we love to hear the president talking about putting money into the transportation budget.”

It’s news that’s all the more welcome: Other federal plans, including those put forward by the Republican-controlled House, have called for cutting transportation spending, calling into question the future of the $3.1 billion to $3.5 billion project. The project’s financing plan calls for $1.2 billion in federal money, with tolling and the states of Washington and Oregon expected to cover the rest.

Among the goals the president outlined was for investments in infrastructure and the creation of a bipartisan National Infrastructure Bank to modernize roads, rail, airports and waterways.

Yet as of now, the American Jobs Plan is no more than words.

While he called on Republicans in the House to pass the bill quickly, it’s been met largely with skepticism from conservatives and even some liberals.

Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Camas) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) issued statements that are far from enthralled with Obama’s act.

Herrera Beutler and DeFazio — both of whom sit on the House Transportation Committee — both mentioned that from the first $800 billion stimulus package, less than 7 percent of the money wound up going to transportation.

“If (Herrera Beutler) were to support a transportation stimulus package, she would need to be convinced that it will be more efficient than the last $800 billion stimulus package,” spokesman Casey Bowman said.

DeFazio blasted the plans, saying it was an “eerie echo” of the first stimulus package, which he opposed.

“This bill has the same misplaced priorities and the same scattershot approach,” he said in a statement. “More than 50 percent of the spending will be for tax cuts and less than 12 percent will be investment in infrastructure to put people back to work and make our nation more competitive.”

Staff from Sen. Patty Murray’s office did not immediately return a request for comment Friday.

The CRC’s Pressentin said that while roadblocks are a reality, it doesn’t change the project’s enthusiasm for possible money to shore up its finances.

“People are talking about jobs, and this project we know will create construction jobs,” she said. “This project has support at the state, local and federal level. We’re going to be watching (for details) like everybody else.”

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