Democrats Moeller, Wylie, Cleveland say revived CRC faces long odds

Washington lawmakers hope Oregon-led effort meets with success

By Stevie Mathieu, Columbian assistant metro editor

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State legislators from Vancouver's 49th Legislative District, who have long supported the Columbia River Crossing project, appear to view the scaled-back, Oregon-led CRC as a long shot.

During a visit with The Columbian's editorial board Tuesday afternoon, the three Vancouver Democrats were asked what the odds were that the $2.7 billion project would gain the approval of Oregon's Legislature. On a scale from one to 10, with one being no chance at all, Rep. Jim Moeller gave the project's fate a three, Rep. Sharon Wylie gave it a two and Sen. Annette Cleveland said five.

The legislators made it clear that they still hope Oregon state lawmakers will meet in a special session this fall to approve the recently revised CRC. If the project moves forward with Oregon at the helm, they said they want to make sure Washington state still plays a role in parts of the project, including the setting of toll rates.

"I was surprised that the Oregon proposal got this far, and I'm more than willing to be surprised," Wylie said. "If there are ways (Washington) can get back to the table and move things along and put this together, I'm willing to roll up my sleeves to try to do that."

Meanwhile, Cleveland, Moeller and Wylie said they're turning their focus to other transportation needs in Clark County. Washington state lawmakers are gearing up to pass a transportation package and a 10.5-cent-per-gallon gas tax increase to pay for many of the state's transportation needs.

The Washington Legislature adjourned earlier this year without passing a similar transportation package, which would have included $450 million for the CRC. Now that it appears the CRC will be left out of a transportation package, Cleveland, Moeller and Wylie said they'll fight to get $450 million to other transportation needs in Southwest Washington.

Clark County has often been viewed as a "donor county," where residents pay their gas taxes and don't get as much in return as communities in the Puget Sound region do, Wylie and Moeller said.

"There will never be enough gas tax money to meet all our transportation needs," Wylie said, but "I want to make sure that we get what we need in as fair a manner possible."

Cleveland said some of the projects Southwest Washington legislators could pitch during negotiations include:

• Interstate 5 freeway interchanges at Mill Plain and Fourth Plain boulevards in Vancouver.

• Improving interchanges on state Highway 500 in Vancouver.

• Widening state Highway 14 in the Camas-Washougal area.

• Adding lanes to the intersection of state Highways 502 and 503 in Battle Ground.

• Improving NE 10th Avenue and building a bridge over Whipple Creek in the Salmon Creek area.

• Updating state Highway 501 and Mill Plain Boulevard between I-5 and the Port of Vancouver.

• A Pioneer Street rail overpass in Ridgefield.

• A new interchange near the Clark County Fairgrounds at Northeast 179th Street and Interstate 5.

Cleveland added that nothing is set in stone yet, and the list could change. Southwest Washington lawmakers are working with their local communities and governments to assess the greatest needs. The transportation package also should include money for local governments to make improvements to the roads under their jurisdictions, Wylie said.

The Oregon-led CRC would still build a new I-5 bridge over the Columbia with light rail and tolls, but it would not include any freeway work north of state Highway 14. Oregon's governor said he's open to the idea of calling a special session to approve Oregon money for the CRC, but some Oregon lawmakers have suggested waiting until the Legislature's regular session in February.

If Oregon legislators wait until next year to take up the issue, however, it will delay the CRC's construction start date and increase project costs, CRC spokeswoman Mandy Putney said last week.