In Our View: Forward on the CRC

Washington legislators must follow example of counterparts in Oregon



Oregon state senators took a bold step Monday in approving $450 million for the Columbia River Crossing. Packaged with robust support of the new-bridge project by federal officials, the pressure is growing on the Washington Legislature to follow suit. That is The Columbian's recommendation, for our state to extend this momentum by approving matching funds (which is a condition attached to Oregon's approved CRC funds).

Monday's vote in the Oregon Senate was 18-11, far from a heavy endorsement of the controversial project. But when coupled with last week's 45-11 vote in the Oregon House, that means almost three-fourths of the legislators (74.1 percent) in Salem gave thumbs up to the CRC.Whether the project draws that kind of support in Olympia remains to be seen, but whatever the magnitude of assent, it's the right thing to do. For the long-term future of Clark County, the CRC — microscopically analyzed, intricately studied and massively debated — must move forward.

This is more than Vancouver's bridge or Clark County's bridge. It affects countless stakeholders along the West Coast's major transportation corridor stretching from Mexico to Canada. Therefore, no one will be blessedly content with the final product. But what is before us now is reasonable.

CRC officials have made mistakes along the way, not the least of which has been confusion over bridge height, plus the difficulty in obtaining Coast Guard approval. Some — though not all — of the missteps can be attributed to the complexity of this bistate, multimodal, federal-state-local endeavor.

Emotions run high on both sides, but objective statistics also are instructive, and here are a couple of facts that add clarity to the debate: According to Columbia River Crossing, in the past eight years the CRC has conducted more than 1,100 public events with more than "33,000 face-to-face interactions on project development and analysis."

Even with the fits and starts in the design of the new bridge and charting an extension of Portland's light rail system, six key agencies have endorsed the locally preferred alternative: Metro (Portland's regional government), the Southwest Washington Regional Transportation Council, TriMet, C-Tran and state transportation departments in Washington and Oregon. Both governors are outspoken advocates. As for local political clout, the closer one gets to the bridge, the stronger the support. All three legislators in the 49th District are backers of the CRC, plus the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce and Identity Clark County.

Fueling this momentum requires more than just action by the Washington Legislature. Officials of the CRC and the Coast Guard must soon resolve the bridge-height issue. (The CRC website states that, in the decade ending in 2012, only 18 commercial-vessel passages would have been impacted by a 116-foot bridge. That softens the severity of the bridge-height predicament. It's hardly a deal breaker).

Despite all of the rancor and divisiveness, the extent of buy-in for this project — both in Clark County and in Oregon — cannot be denied.

Now, it's the Washington legislators' turn to do their part.