U.S. Senate plan includes $65 million for CRC

A similar plan in the U.S. House excludes money for the project

By Stevie Mathieu, Columbian Assistant Metro Editor

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CRC mitigation talks go beyond big manufacturers

CRC mitigation talks go beyond big manufacturers

A transportation budget proposed in the U.S. Senate would provide $65 million for the Columbia River Crossing project, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray announced Tuesday.

The legislation, which passed out of a crucial subcommittee on Tuesday, is just one spending proposal being considered by Congress. The U.S. House has drafted its own version that contains no federal money next year for the CRC.

That $65 million in the Senate plan covers the 2014 fiscal year and pencils in the first installment of an $850 million federal New Starts grant that CRC planners are working to secure. President Barack Obama also included the same $65 million for the CRC in his budget proposal.

“I was thrilled when the president included funding for the CRC in his budget request, and I’ve worked hard to ensure the Senate transportation spending bill reflects our shared commitment to this important project,” Murray said in a statement. “For more than a decade, stakeholders from Washington state and Oregon have worked together to move the CRC forward, and the funding in my bill represents our continued federal support for this project.”

On Tuesday, the Senate plan passed out of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development, which Murray chairs. The appropriations bill includes $54 billion for the nation’s transportation, housing and urban development needs, according to Murray’s office. About $1.9 billion of that budget would go toward the New Starts grant program.

Even though federal money for the CRC is included in the Senate budget, CRC planners still have some hoops to jump through before bridge construction can begin.

Federal Transit Administration rules require that local funding be in place before a project is eligible for a federal New Starts grant. For the CRC, that means lining up money from both states, and securing operations funding for light rail in Vancouver. That hasn’t happened yet. Project leaders are hoping to have state and local money committed this year so it can apply for the $850 million New Starts grant this fall. If approved, the grant would be paid in smaller chunks over several years and pay for the construction of light rail.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and other top officials have said the CRC is well-positioned for that money should the other pieces of the finance plan fall into place. But the FTA hasn’t guaranteed anything to the CRC, and won’t accept its grant application until they do.

The $3.4 billion CRC project would replace the Interstate 5 Bridge over the Columbia River, extend a light-rail line from Portland to Vancouver and rebuild nearby freeway interchanges.

CRC plans call for Oregon and Washington to jointly pay about $900 million toward the project’s construction, and Oregon legislators dedicated their half this year, contingent on Washington state following suit. Federal money and as much as $1.3 billion in tolls will cover the rest of the project.

Conflicting plans

The Senate’s funding plans for the CRC conflict with the U.S. House’s version of the 2014 transportation appropriations bill. The House version does not include enough federal money for New Starts to finance the CRC next year, and it is a significantly smaller budget overall — at $44.1 billion.

The House transportation spending plan doles out $1.68 billion to the New Starts program, and that money would go to 17 other projects around the country, from Honolulu to New York, according to the office of U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, a Camas Republican critical of the CRC.

The $1.68 billion in the House spending plan is “the exact amount needed to fund the other 17 projects in the House Appropriations bill,” Herrera Beutler’s spokesman, Casey Bowman, said earlier this month. “So even if the CRC were to surmount the huge permitting and local funding hurdles in front of it, there would still be no federal money available for it or any other New Starts project in (fiscal year) 2014.”

The House and Senate transportation budgets still must pass out of their appropriation committees and be approved by their respective chambers. After that, the differences between the two bills would be hammered out in a conference committee. Those committees typically include senior members of Congress who are familiar with the bills.

Stevie Mathieu: 360-735-4523 or www.facebook.com/reportermathieu or www.twitter.com/col_politics or stevie.mathieu@columbian.com