Oregon governor: Federal money remains available for CRC

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Federal money is still available for the proposed Columbia River Crossing, according to Gov. John Kitzhaber, who said Friday that the controversial bridge and highway project remains on track.

Kitzhaber told reporters and editorial writers at The Oregonian that his office had been in contact recently with Anthony Foxx, U.S. secretary of transportation.

The governor's comments in response to a reporter's question mean that a pot of money called the New Starts fund remains available, contrary to earlier statements by officials who said that Oregon would be too late to apply if it waited until next year. CRC proponents are counting on $850 million from the fund for the light-rail portion of the $2.6 billion project, which would replace the Interstate 5 bridge over the Columbia River between Portland and Vancouver.

A phone call for comment from the U.S. Department of Transportation was not immediately returned Friday.

The Oregon Legislature needs to make a decision on whether to go ahead with the CRC now that Washington state has dropped out, Kitzhaber said. He said he was pushing for a joint legislative hearing to be held in January on the CRC. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee might speak at the hearing, Kitzhaber said.

"The resources are still there federally," Kitzhaber said. "Gov. Inslee is still supportive."

Proponents must also address concerns raised by State Treasurer Ted Wheeler regarding financing by tolls, Kitzhaber said. "We believe we've met most of those," he said.

Critics contend that many Vancouver motorists would bypass tolls by taking Interstate 205 across the Columbia. "That's a pretty long extra commute to avoid a toll," Kitzhaber said.