Rivers: State funds for CRC unlikely

Senator tells project foes she doubts Legislature will act on plan this year

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

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CRC Rally audio

State Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, told a gathering of mostly Columbia River Crossing opponents Friday that she doesn't believe the controversial project will receive funding in the Washington Legislature this year.

The remarks came during an anti-CRC rally that filled the Grand Ballroom of Vancouver's Red Lion Hotel at the Quay. A dozen local politicians and business owners made their case against the CRC, painting the $3.4 billion Interstate 5 Bridge replacement as a damaging proposition to Clark County and its residents.

The project, which would also rebuild several freeway interchanges in Washington and Oregon and extend light rail into Vancouver, has become a major issue in both states' legislatures this year. Oregon lawmakers have already authorized a commitment of $450 million to the CRC. Project leaders say they need Washington to do the same if the CRC has any hope of beginning construction in late 2014, as planned.

But Rivers, who has become a prominent voice on the project in Olympia, said Friday she doesn't see that happening.

"I do not anticipate a $450 million (commitment) this year," Rivers said. Whatever transportation funding package the state ends up with, she added, "I don't see that written in."

Earlier this year, Washington House Democrats rolled out a nearly $10 billion package that would steer $450 million to the CRC. But any such proposal would have to get through the state's Republican-controlled Senate for approval.

Friday's rally highlighted voices from many levels. In addition to Rivers, an audience of more than 200 heard from state Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, Rep. Liz Pike, R-Camas, Clark County Commissioner Tom Mielke, Vancouver City Councilors Bill Turlay and Jeanne Stewart, plus a handful of local business owners. Even Jefferson Smith, the former Oregon legislator and Portland mayoral candidate, joined the chorus of CRC criticism.

The project has advanced to this point not because it's a sound proposal, Smith said, but because "the biggest muscle has settled on a plan that they're not willing to reconsider."

Not everyone in the ballroom opposed the CRC. One man silently held a cardboard sign reading "YES on CRC" on one side, "CRC = LIFE" on the other. Standing next to him for much of the event, however, was another man with a sign the read, in part, "NO TOLLS, NO LIGHT RAIL, NO TAX INCREASE."

The CRC's financial plan calls for the two states to pony up a combined $900 million, with the rest coming from federal sources and revenue from charging a toll to drivers crossing the bridge. Opponents have argued that tolling will remove millions of dollars from the local economy each year -- and that means less money in people's pockets for local restaurants, theaters and stores, Benton said Friday.

"The money has to come from somewhere," he said. "It's going to come from discretionary spending."

The rally came one week after Gov. Jay Inslee visited Vancouver to urge support for the CRC. Backers of the project say the region is primed to capitalize on a major opportunity in the CRC, and needs to invest now to improve access and traffic flow on a major commercial corridor. Failure to do so, they say, would only set back the region's development, squeezed by the congestion that plagues Interstate 5 now.

Eric Florip: 360-735-4541; http://twitter.com/col_enviro; eric.florip@columbian.com.