PORTLAND — Oregon’s Metro regional government tweaked a land-use order allowing for the construction of the Columbia River Crossing on Thursday, bringing it into compliance with a recent Oregon Supreme Court order.
Metro had originally approved a Land Use Final Order, effectively signing off on CRC light rail and freeway improvements on the Oregon side of the river. The more than $3 billion project would replace the Interstate 5 Bridge and extend light rail from Portland to Vancouver.
However, critics challenged it, and the appeal went all the way to the state’s Supreme Court.
The court rejected all of the challenge, except one problem: the Land Use Final Order law — crafted in the 1990s for a separate light rail project proposed then — only applies within Portland’s urban growth boundary. That only extends as far as the north shore of Hayden Island — not to the Washington-Oregon state line, where it was extended in Metro’s land-use order. The boundary between the states lies in the Columbia River.
Thursday’s action, approved unanimously by the seven-member Metro council, pulled the Land Use Final Order back to the north shores of Hayden Island.
Voting down the new Land Use Final Order — which expedites appeals — would not have killed the project, rather it would have placed all of its permitting and construction under regular land-use hearing processes, likely leading to years more of legal wrangling, Metro staff said.
Metro Councilor and CRC critic Carl Hosticka said for that reason, he favored the new resolution.
“We’ve spend entirely too much time and too much money on this legal wrangling,” Hosticka said, adding that the argument about the CRC should now be heard out in the Legislature. “If we don’t approve this today, we’re not marking the end of the project, we’re just marking the beginning of another land-use process, which could take years.”
As for the land and waters between the north shores of Hayden Island and the state line, Metro staff explained that work would be subject to the standard approval process through Metro and Portland.
Willamette Week reported this year that Oregon Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul De Muniz wrote in a majority opinion that $2.5 billion in highway expansion and interchange improvements were included in the $3.5 billion CRC project to get Clark County to agree to light rail. However, the court did not say this was illegal or strike down any other portion of the lawsuit.
Thursday’s vote is likely the last to be taken by Metro regarding the Columbia River Crossing.