White House makes CRC announcement official

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

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The White House on Monday made official its announcement that the Columbia River Crossing will be among a handful of transportation projects expedited as part of President Barack Obama's "We Can't Wait" initiative.

The move, reported Friday by The Oregonian and announced by the governors of Washington and Oregon over the weekend, aims to fast-track the permitting and review process to save "between several months to more than a year," according to the White House. But the announcement came with no financial commitment to a CRC project that still faces major financial and logistical questions.

The CRC would replace the Interstate 5 Bridge spans between Vancouver and Portland, extend light rail into downtown Vancouver and rebuild the freeway on both sides of the Columbia River. The $3.5 billion project has spent more than $140 million on planning to date.

Tolling for the CRC has been approved by Washington lawmakers, and is expected to cover about one-third of the project's cost. But the project has not secured the state and federal funding that's needed to cover the rest of the price tag. And planners are working through a still-unresolved flap over the CRC's planned bridge height, which the U.S. Coast Guard and others have said is too low to accommodate all river traffic.

The Washington and Oregon governors praised President Obama's "We Can't Wait" announcement in reaffirming their support for the CRC, describing it as a crucial boost to the region's economy and infrastructure. The project received a federal Record of Decision last year.

The CRC was one of four projects identified as part of the initiative on Monday. It's also by far the biggest. Others listed for fast-tracked status are a $25 million bridge replacement in Maine, a $100 million rail improvement program in North Dakota, and Washington's $89 million Point Defiance Bypass Project in the southern Puget Sound.

Additional expedited projects will be identified in the coming weeks, according to the White House.