The resistance by our elected representatives in Olympia to "close the deal" and provide the needed $450 million to fund the Columbia River Crossing doesn't bode well for the future of this vital project. It greatly disturbs me that we have invested millions of dollars and thousands of hours over the past 10 years only to see CRC become the object of short-sighted, partisan political bickering with very little effort given to real problem-solving. The time has come — either build the bridge as designed, or face gridlock.
As a member of the 39-member task force charged with advising Washington and Oregon between 2005 and 2008, I and my colleagues spent hundreds of hours listening, distilling information, and making recommendations after examining scores and scores of alternatives. We looked hard at ways to avoid tolling. There is no reasonable alternative. We examined the possibility of building a third bridge — that is a two-state deal, and Oregon doesn't want one.
Can anyone believe that either state legislature would spend an additional $100 million to hold design hearings and do the necessary environmental work for a bridge at another location? Some say the light-rail funding requirement is a bluff. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., says not, and she's well positioned to know. A spokesman for Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber said last week the governor "has been clear from the start: No light rail. No project. No kidding,"
Losses will be great
The surprisingly good deal (Washington state invests $450 million and gets a $3.5 billion bridge in return) may well be lost if we aren't willing to invest the $450 million, or won't accept light rail as part of the deal. While that doesn't seem difficult to comprehend, some of our elected representatives are willing to play Russian roulette with those federal dollars — dollars Washington legislators must replace before we begin a new bridge, whenever that might be.
That we badly need a new bridge is not arguable. The increasing amount of money lost through accidents, hours standing bumper-to-bumper each day, and bridge lifts, coupled with a very serious safety issue — an old steel structure in an earthquake zone with pilings that are far too short, and timber pilings nearly 100 years old.
The real cost associated with not building this bridge now is huge, and extremely difficult to quantify. Lost are the thousands of family-wage jobs that working men and women in Clark County have for years been counting on to cut into the county's chronic high unemployment. Gone is Southwest Washington's "can-do" reputation. With the failed old bridge as our new logo, what outside company will want to move here? As far as rekindling interest in another new bridge, which U.S. senator, which state senator, which governor will now be willing to take the lead, following our refusal to follow through? Who will replace the $850 million lost federal dollars? Sen. Murray? I don't think so.
Is the present design the perfect solution for a replacement bridge? No. However, when planning a project involving two states, several counties, and multiple municipalities, compromise has been an absolute necessity. Before our state's legislators hesitate to fund Washington's slice of the revenue pie for this project, they would do well to remember that. We either build this bridge now, or we will have no bridge to build.