In Our View: A Bridge Not Far Enough

CRC may be done, but S.W. Washington still needs better access to Oregon

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Where do we go from here? Amid the celebrating on one side and the mourning on the other in the wake of the CRC's demise, that is the question that remains to be answered.When the Washington Legislature adjourned Saturday without approving funding for the Columbia River Crossing project, the governors of Washington and Oregon declared the project dead. On Monday, CRC employees began preparations for shutting down their downtown Vancouver office.

Forgive our cynicism — or perhaps it is merely skepticism — but we have seen plenty of political resurrections over the years. We aren't quite ready to start shoveling dirt on the CRC. But if the project as planned is, indeed, mortally wounded, where do we go from here?

Let's start with this premise: Something must be done to improve access across the Columbia River. Be it an enhanced Interstate 5 bridge or the misguided idea of a third bridge connecting Vancouver with Portland, the future of Southwest Washington depends upon a major project's being completed.

We believe that most people in Clark County can agree upon this. After that, agreement is difficult to come by.

Therein lies the problem. By catering, out of necessity, to multiple governmental agencies — two states, several transportation entities, numerous constituencies, etc. — the CRC was doomed to feature a design by committee. There is no conceivable way in which to please all the interested parties and all the stakeholders in the project.

Yes, the CRC could have been more effective and more efficient. It is frustrating to consider that, years into the project, it needed to be redesigned because the bridge height was inadequate. It is maddening to think that more than $170 million has been spent on planning for what now amounts to nothing.

There has been a decided lack of vision and a clear lack of leadership in connection to the CRC, and that, perhaps, is what ultimately led to its demise. As state Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, told Columbian reporter Eric Florip: "In the private sector, if this had happened, there would be no forgiveness of the companies that did this."

But we have yet to hear any proposals for how the project can be more effectively carried out the next time around. The definition of insanity, it is often said, is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. We're in favor of avoiding insanity the next time the powers that be begin talking about such a project.

And that makes us wonder how the next time will be different. Would the project have received a consensus of support if it did not include light rail? Will those who opposed the CRC be rewarded or will they be chastised the next time they face voters at the ballot box? Is there any way for a major project in Southwest Washington to be deemed a necessity by the legislature, or are we perpetually sentenced to being an afterthought?

The answers to those questions likely will be years — or decades — in the making. In the meantime, the legislature has turned its back on $850 million the federal government had pledged toward the inclusion of light rail in the project.

That money will go elsewhere, to other projects in other states, while Southwest Washington attempts to enhance economic development despite being hampered by a bridge deemed "functionally obsolete."

Which leaves us with a question that must be answered and must be answered soon: Where do we go from here?