As the Columbia River Crossing has repeatedly demonstrated throughout its Lazarus-like existence, rumors of its death often are greatly exaggerated.
Therefore, after years of planning, public input, and debate at the community, state, and federal levels, it is time for the Washington Legislature to resuscitate the wheezing and gasping project. It is time for lawmakers to come forth with financing for a new Interstate 5 Bridge that does not include light rail — but can add light rail in the future.
Undoubtedly, this would be a hard sell. Oregon and federal officials have insisted throughout the process that the plan include an extension of Portland’s MAX system into Clark County. But it is time, after a decade of posturing, for all sides to embrace the reality of compromise: Clark County won’t accept light rail right now. Without such a compromise, the autopsy for the CRC will be performed soon, and the cause of death will be listed thusly: “Neglect.”
Last year, it was the Washington Legislature abdicating its responsibility, turning away from the proposal and leaving it to languish in the elements. While Oregon legislators came through with their share of money for the project, Washington lawmakers chose to ignore it.
Now it is the Oregon Legislature’s turn to pass the buck. Talk had arisen about an Oregon-only plan to build a pared-down, $2.8 billion version of the bridge, but Senate President Peter Courtney this week rebuffed that notion and sent a volley back to Washington: “I’ve done my duty. It’s time for them to do their duty.”
The CRC has become an unwanted child, with neither state willing to claim parentage. And yet the need cannot be ignored. Shunting aside the project now will delay it for a decade or more — a decade that will hamper economic development on both sides of the river, as well as the entire West Coast.
Yes, the process has been difficult and messy. But while many people find fault with the final proposal, the fact is that the CRC was forged while trying to balance the needs and desires of two states, the federal government, and multiple regional governments and transportation boards. The plan is a bit of a Frankenstein’s monster, composed of imperfect pieces, but it is our monster — bolts and all.
Because it is ours, Southwest Washington lawmakers who helped kill the proposal last year should take the lead in reviving it. The demise of the project and a push of the reset button would be needlessly costly to the future of the region, not to mention a waste of the $180 million already spent on planning and development.
For Southwest Washington taxpayers, such a waste would be surpassed only by a transportation package that could come out of the Washington Legislature this year. Negotiations are ongoing that could raise the state gas tax by 10 cents a gallon or more, and it’s likely that only a pittance of the revenue would be earmarked for projects in this area. Local legislators should insist that a CRC proposal be included with any transportation plan, lest Clark County continue to be a donor county for projects elsewhere in the state.
The argument, of course, is that no plan is better than a poor plan when talking about spending billions of dollars. But coming up with a replacement for the I-5 Bridge is crucial to the future of the region, and moving forward without light rail should be, at this point, the preferred local alternative. Washington must take the lead in keeping the project alive.