Oregon treasurer: CRC still has work to do

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

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Ted Wheeler letter on CRC

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The revised Columbia River Crossing hasn’t yet cleared all the needed hurdles to be considered financially viable, Oregon Treasurer Ted Wheeler said in a letter to state leaders Thursday.

Wheeler laid out a series of steps the proposed Interstate 5 Bridge replacement must take before it can float — among them an agreement that gives Oregon sole control of establishing and collecting tolls on I-5, an agreement authorizing Oregon to build elements of the project in Washington, and a plan to pay for operating light rail in Vancouver. The project also still needs a crucial bridge permit from the U.S. Coast Guard, plus federal grants and loans the CRC has long sought, Wheeler noted.

Wheeler still characterized the CRC as an important project. But his long-awaited assessment falls well short of the green light project supporters were looking for.

“It is premature to conclude that the project can work, financially,” Wheeler wrote. “The answer will ultimately depend on required negotiations and agreements that are not completed.”

Washington has largely pulled out of the project financially, after lawmakers in Olympia adjourned without authorizing any money for the CRC earlier this year. The project has since re-emerged as a pared-down CRC that would still include the same I-5 bridge, tolls and light rail to Clark College, but remove any freeway work north of state Highway 14 in Washington.

Wheeler’s assessment comes as the C-Tran Board of Directors prepares to consider a plan to answer one of the questions outlined in his letter: how to pay the annual cost to operate light rail in Vancouver. Agency staff have prepared a draft plan that would cover C-Tran’s yearly share — initially estimated at $2.3 million — primarily by cutting bus trips across the Columbia River that light rail would replace.

The C-Tran board meeting begins at 7 p.m. tonight in the Vancouver Community Library, 901 C St.

CRC leaders have said they must have financial details in place before formally applying for an $850 million grant this fall. But in a letter to C-Tran board members this week, U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler said project supporters have overstated the urgency of acting now by claiming the project could lose its chance at federal money.

Herrera Beutler said her office has been told by the Federal Transit Administration that no such deadline exists, and that the FTA considers the project “on hold.”

This story will be updated.