U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler reminded U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx on Wednesday that a last-ditch effort to resurrect the Columbia River Crossing project still must overcome some difficult hurdles before receiving federal money.
CRC critic Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, wrote a letter to Foxx in which she states the Interstate 5 Bridge replacement project has failed to meet funding requirements for its desired $850 million in federal New Starts grants. Most notable, she said, is that Clark County transit officials haven’t approved a plan to pay for light-rail maintenance and operation in Vancouver, and that the Oregon and Washington legislatures still haven’t both put up money for the controversial project.
The $3.4 billion project was declared dead after Washington lawmakers declined to commit the state’s $450 million share; Oregon legislators had said they would only commit their share if Washington did. Since then, a new version of the CRC has emerged as a pared-down $2.75 billion effort with Oregon solely at the helm. It would still replace the I-5 Bridge and bring Portland’s light rail to Vancouver, but it wouldn’t update any Washington freeway interchanges north of state Highway 14.
So far, the Oregon-led CRC has been viewed as a long shot.
“Beginning a multistate project of this magnitude without the approval of one of the involved states and its local citizens would be unprecedented in recent history,” Herrera Beutler wrote. “Without cooperation from Washington state or any commitment to fund operation and maintenance at the local level, the project becomes ‘light rail to nowhere,’ and a completely different project from the plan originally submitted by the CRC.”
She also requested that Foxx provide “clarity on the administration’s role going forward and the requirements the project must meet in order to qualify for any federal assistance.”
Herrera Beutler wrote in her letter that the CRC has applied for the New Starts grant, but CRC spokeswoman Mandy Putney said Wednesday that project planners haven’t filed a formal application with the Federal Transit Administration. They are engaged in an application process with the agency but had planned to submit the formal application this fall, Putney said.
And while it’s true that the Oregon-led CRC plan hasn’t yet cleared crucial hurdles, the window of time for CRC supporters to meet those requirements technically hasn’t closed. Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber told legislators that they’ll have answers on the feasibility of the Oregon-led CRC plan by Sept. 15. Kitzhaber has indicated Oregon lawmakers may come back for a special session Sept. 30, the day Oregon’s previous authorization of $450 million to the project is set to expire unless its legislature acts.
Herrera Beutler’s letter also states that the Washington Legislature adjourned June 30, and that Vancouver citizens rejected a ballot measure to pay for light-rail operations with a sales tax increase. The Legislature actually adjourned June 29. and residents in Clark County’s C-Tran District were the ones to reject the ballot measure.
On Tuesday, the C-Tran board authorized the agency to resume work on the CRC, including a plan to finance light-rail operations.
Columbian staff writer Eric Florip contributed to this report.
Stevie Mathieu: 360-735-4523 or www.facebook.com/reportermathieu or www.twitter.com/col_politics or firstname.lastname@example.org