With the departure of Washington Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond, the Columbia River Crossing loses one of its strongest backers in state government.
Hammond was appointed to the position by then-Gov. Chris Gregoire in 2007, and became a high-profile voice in favor of the proposed $3.5 billion Interstate 5 Bridge replacement project. During last year's meetings of a legislative oversight committee on the CRC, Hammond often touted the benefits of the project, including light rail. In October, Hammond directly told state lawmakers that moving away from light rail — and the years of planning tied to that design — is not an option her agency was interested in pursuing.
"If you don't have light rail," she said then, "you don't have a project."
In addition to replacing the I-5 Bridge, the CRC project would extend light rail into Vancouver and rebuild the freeway on both sides of the Columbia River.
Hammond's successor, Lynn Peterson, appointed bu Gov. Jay Inslee, is likely to continue that support of the CRC as the new head of the Washington State Department of Transportation. She now serves as sustainable communities and transportation advisor to Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber.
But as chair of the Clackamas County, Ore., board of commissioners in 2010, Peterson sent a letter to a CRC review board expressing misgivings about the project. That included "grave concerns" about a finance plan that prioritized the CRC over all other regional transportation investments, according to the letter.
Peterson noted Clackamas County's previous support of the CRC, but said those and other concerns had caused the county to rethink its position at the time. The letter also called for tolling on Interstate 205, fearing the effects of traffic diversion from the nearby I-5 bridge. (CRC plans already call for tolling on I-5 but not I-205.)