LaHood: CRC height won’t derail plan

Transportation head suggests meeting to abate any delays

By Andrea Damewood, Columbian staff writer

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The issue over the Columbia River Crossing’s height hit Washington, D.C., on Thursday, with the U.S. transportation secretary suggesting that he might step in to mediate.

In a Senate transportation subcommittee meeting, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood called the problem -- which could cost as much as $150 million to fix -- a “little hiccup” that will not stop the $3.5 billion project.

The Columbian broke the news this month that the Coast Guard, which must give approval to the CRC’s plans, told the project that the planned 95-foot clearance for river traffic was too low.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., put the problem to LaHood, asking where the negotiations between the CRC and Coast Guard stand.

“It’s an issue everyone frankly thought was solved years ago,” Murray said.

Along with the potential for increased costs, significantly lifting the Interstate 5 bridge could possibly cause issues with airspace clearance with nearby Pearson Airfield, and add to the bridge’s footprint on downtown Vancouver and Hayden Island in Oregon.

LaHood said he would set up a meeting in Murray’s office for talks.

“We’ll get the Coast Guard, the (Departments of Transportation), and the two states, and make sure everybody’s on the same page to make sure there are no delays,” LaHood told Murray.

LaHood said his department remains “totally committed” to the Columbia River Crossing.

“It’s going to be a model for multimodal transportation,” he said. “It’s bistate, bipartisan … anyway you can describe it, it’s a great project.”

In fiscal year 2013, the CRC is marked for $39 million in transit grants funding, wrote a Murray spokeswoman in an email. The payments are expected to increase each year as construction begins. The CRC expects to get $850 million in federal transit money to expand Portland’s MAX light rail line to Clark College.

“I’m really pleased to see your budget includes funds for it,” Murray said.

Coast Guard and CRC officials said Thursday they were open to having a meeting in D.C.

“We’re meeting with the Coast Guard regularly, and our discussions are productive,” CRC Director Nancy Boyd wrote in an email. “We’ve collaboratively developed a work plan to proceed through the permitting process and are in the data gathering mode now.

“Regarding the meeting suggested by Sen. Murray and Secretary LaHood -- we would welcome the opportunity to discuss our bridge permit process in Washington, D.C. We agree with Secretary LaHood’s statement that we do not expect the permitting process to affect our schedule.”

Andrea Damewood: 360-735-4542; http://www.twitter.com/col_cityhall;andrea.damewood@columbian.com.