Cantwell on CRC: 'We have to get this done'

Senator says bridge project affects entire nation's economy

By Stevie Mathieu, Columbian assistant metro editor

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U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell said lawmakers need to continue to press those involved with the Columbia River Crossing to make sure the Interstate 5 Bridge replacement gets done.

The Democratic congresswoman also noted the CRC's recent controversy in which the U.S. Coast Guard told CRC officials that the height of the proposed bridge is too low to meet the needs of numerous river users.

"We have got to come to terms, and if making (the CRC) a little taller within this framework can be met, we have to get to that decision and move forward," Cantwell said during a visit with the The Columbian's editorial board Thursday afternoon. "We've had two meetings with the Coast Guard over this unfortunate incident … and we're going to keep pushing."

Cantwell described the bridge replacement as the final piece in the puzzle for improving the region's freight mobility and infrastructure. Without such improvements, the nation will struggle to compete in a global economy, she said.

The Coast Guard, which has permitting authority over the project, also has raised concerns about the timing of CRC permit applications. All parties involved in the project need strong leadership to make sure plans stay on track, Cantwell said.

"Otherwise," she said, "somebody just holds out because they can and because: 'Wait a minute, I've got the permits, and you've got to come to me for the permits, and you're not listening to what I'm saying about the height.' … But if we stall it, if we don't get it done, if we continue to drag our feet, it's going to cost us jobs all across America, not just right here, but all across America. We have to get this done."

Cantwell also answered questions about coal trains, the nation's increasing deficit, and the frustrating amount of gridlock in Congress.

In Vancouver, some residents have raised concerns that moving more coal through the region to ultimately ship to China would cause environmental harm to the region, given the increase of coal dust coming from the trains.

On coal trains, Cantwell said she wants to make sure that communities facing an increased number of coal trains traveling through the state are able to voice their concerns.

"We need a lot of answers," Cantwell said. "What's the mitigation going to be? (Are communities) going to be able to have a say in this? We have to have a process that's going to allow people to have input."

Cantwell also said the nation is "not out of the woods" when it comes to the economy. She called for increasing small businesses' and consumers' access to capital.

On the growing deficit, she said she has a record of supporting higher taxes for the wealthy. Reforming Medicare is another part of the solution, she said, adding that "there could be huge savings in that."

Reforming the government and reducing the deficit will take bipartisanship, Cantwell said. She said she believes Congress has a better shot at working together following the 2012 election, but there are other problems causing the gridlock.

Cantwell said she hopes members of Congress can agree to change the rules regarding filibusters. Traditionally, federal lawmakers would have to filibuster the old-fashioned way -- by stalling the voting process with a long-winded speech. Today's rules allow members of Congress, through certain procedures, to have the same effect of a filibuster without all the work.

State Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, is running against Cantwell this fall. He met with The Columbian's editorial board Tuesday.

In the Aug. 7 primary election, Cantwell received more than 55 percent of the vote; Baumgartner received about 30 percent. Ballots for the Nov. 6 general election will be mailed to voters Oct. 15.

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