Oregon legislative panel backs CRC plan

Bill now heads to Ways and Means Committee

By Eric Florip, Columbian Transportation & Environment Reporter

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The Columbia River Crossing will live to see another day after an Oregon legislative committee on Thursday advanced a bill authorizing the controversial Interstate 5 Bridge replacement project.

House Bill 4113, which would cap the project’s cost at $2.9 billion, advanced by a 6-4 vote in Oregon’s House Committee on Transportation and Economic Development. It now heads to the joint Ways and Means committee.

The vote came a day after several hours of public testimony during a Wednesday hearing that stretched into the evening. The hearing was attended by a contingent of Washington lawmakers who weighed in — despite the fact that Washington pulled out of the CRC last year. The Oregon Legislature is now considering a pared-down version that replaces the I-5 Bridge and extends light rail to Vancouver but eliminates most freeway work north of the Columbia River.

All 10 members of Oregon’s House transportation committee were yes votes on the CRC last year, before the project became an Oregon-led effort. Thursday’s split 6-4 tally reflects eroding support for a project that now puts all the debt risk on Oregon, and draws much of its revenue from toll-paying Washington drivers.

Some transportation committee members made it clear Thursday that they’re not comfortable with the revised CRC. Oregon planners still need to secure certain agreements before they can legally construct part of the project on another state’s soil.

“This is no way to build a bridge,” Rep. John Davis, R-Wilsonville, said. “I would have considerable concerns if Washington attempted to do this in the other direction to Oregon.”

Said Rep. Julie Parrish, R-West Linn: “I’m very disappointed in this process. … This is probably political theater at its worst.”

One notable vote came from Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, who voted no Thursday despite being a co-sponsor of last year’s CRC legislation.

Ultimately, a majority of the committee opted to stand by the CRC, described by supporters as a crucial piece of the region’s economic future.

“Don’t look at next year. Don’t look at the year after that,” said Rep. Margaret Doherty, D-Tigard, who voted in favor of the bill. “Look at 60, 70 years from now — a hundred years from now.”

Whether the CRC can clear the entire Oregon Legislature remains to be seen. Even if the project makes it past the House, it appears to face a tougher road in the Senate. There, Senate President Peter Courtney has said he opposes moving forward on the CRC without Washington on board.

Without legislative action this session, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber has told lawmakers that he’ll pull the plug on the CRC. More than $180 million has been spent on planning for the project.

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