Local View: CRC project a product of a thorough process




We live in busy times with busy lives, and many of us don't get involved in major public issues or projects until implementation is imminent. Nowhere is this more evident than with the most significant public works project for our region, the Columbia River Crossing. Some who want to move forward and some who oppose the project have invested years of time and energy in advocating their positions.

Through it all, there has been a major, long-term effort to involve the public in each step of the process. I attended numerous public meetings on the CRC project over the past decade. The process was extensive and at times contentious. Everyone had opportunities to offer ideas and ask questions. Computer models and cost analyses were presented, and those who participated in the process made up their minds based on those analyses.

Public process does not mean that all must agree or that all must participate, but nobody was denied the opportunity to speak his or her mind. After 10 years of debate, decisions were made and it's time to move ahead.

We can always wish for a better process, however, we wound up with a process of our own making, based on the quantity and quality of our participation. The process may not have been perfect, but it was open and it was fair.

Stark choices

We've now reached a fork in the road where our choices are stark. We can say yes to a future that many have worked hard to move toward, or we can say no and extend our gridlock with no plan and no alternative.Will we be equal partners in a dynamic region with our own identity, or will we be a bedroom community to the city of Portland? Will we invest in jobs on this side of the river and ensure there is adequate public transportation and a safe crossing for the next 100 years, or will we continue to commute to Oregon for jobs and let the next big earthquake make our decision for us at the cost of economic suffering and human life?

State Sen. Annette Cleveland shared facts about the CRC project in her March 17 op-ed. She spoke the truth. This project is necessary. The aging, outmoded spans need to be replaced. Light rail not only makes sense for our future, it was chosen over other alternatives in a process that extended over many years and evaluated all options thoroughly.

With so many questions asked and answered, only one remains: Will we commit to our state's share of the project, $450 million, by September in order to qualify for federal funds? Oregon has already done its part.

If you hear that we can replace the light-rail component of the bridge and still qualify for the federal funds, you're being misled. The problem is that substituting bus rapid transit now will require a new environmental impact statement that will go beyond the September deadline, send us to the bottom of the list for federal funds and delay the project for years at an additional cost of $50 million to $70 million for each year of delay.

And here's the kicker: If we miss the deadline, those funds will go to other states whose projects do meet the deadline -- and there's no guarantee that all of the federal funding ($850 million) or even a portion of it will be available when we make it back to the front of the line.

I have participated in politics in three states for more than 30 years and I've seen time and again how much easier it is to kill an idea than it is to solve a problem or make a solution work. "No" is the easiest way out. Solving problems is harder, but it is the right thing to do. It's time to move forward on the Columbia River Crossing together.

State Rep. Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver, represents the 49th Legislative District, which includes western Vancouver, Hazel Dell and the surrounding communities of southwestern Clark County. Wylie serves as vice chair of the Government Accountability & Oversight Committee, and is also a member of the Higher Education Committee and the Technology & Economic Development Committee.