New state panel would keep eye on CRC project

Subcommittee would consist of six members

By Stevie Mathieu, Columbian assistant metro editor

Published:

Updated: March 7, 2012, 11:48 AM

 

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A legislative oversight group is in the works to keep tabs on the Columbia River Crossing project.

As the state House of Representatives passed its supplemental transportation budget Monday, Rep. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, added an amendment to create a transportation subcommittee that would receive updates from the state’s transportation department regarding the project to replace the Interstate 5 Bridge over the Columbia River.

“I bring this amendment to assure transparency, oversight of and engagement in the Columbia River Crossing project as it moves forward,” Rivers said from the House floor, where the amendment passed with bipartisan support.

The new Joint Transportation Committee’s Columbia River Crossing subcommittee would be comprised of six people -- two lawmakers from the state Senate, two lawmakers from the state House, someone appointed by the governor, and one citizen “of the area served by the bridge,” according to the amendment. At least two of the lawmakers on the subcommittee also would need to be from the bridge’s service area, and lawmakers on the Joint Transportation Committee would be in charge of choosing the citizen member.

The subcommittee would ask transportation officials for updates on cost estimates, right-of-way purchases, projected traffic volumes and toll rates, according to the amendment. The Washington subcommittee would coordinate with the Oregon Legislature’s Columbia River Crossing oversight committee.

Additionally, transportation officials would be required to show the oversight subcommittee a phased master plan for the project by Jan. 1, just before the start of the 2013 legislative session.

When the transportation budget made its way to the Senate floor Tuesday, Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, added the amendment again. His amendment was approved with a voice vote.

“It’s a great way to have a monitoring of this process,” Benton said, adding that the advisory committee would keep an eye on expenses associated with the project.

Sen. Craig Pridemore, D-Vancouver, asked the Senate to reject the amendment.

“I strongly support the underlying intent of the amendment,” Pridemore said, but the new subcommittee would create a “political environment that frankly this project does not need.”

CRC spokeswoman Anne Pressentin said project planners welcome the idea of providing information to state lawmakers, and that they already work with a similar oversight committee in Oregon.

“They’ve had a lot of good questions,” Pressentin said of the Oregon committee. “We expect that this (subcommittee in Washington) would be helpful to inform everyone as to next steps.”

The supplemental transportation budget, House Bill 2190, passed out of the Senate with a vote of 44-5. It now goes back to the House for concurrence.

Stevie Mathieu: 360-735-4523 or stevie.mathieu@columbian.com or www.facebook.com/reportermathieu or www.twitter.com/col_politics.