State Rep. Liz Pike initially coined the new group she’s forming the “Bistate Bridge Crossing Coalition.”
But the Republican from Camas quickly corrected herself.
“Let’s keep ‘crossing’ out of the name,” she said. “Pretty bad memories there.”
While officials involved with the Columbia River Crossing work to shut the $2.9 billion project down, Pike is joining forces with Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, to create a bipartisan group of lawmakers from both Oregon and Washington to discuss whether there is a path forward on some type of Interstate 5 Bridge replacement project.
“Let’s start at the beginning and have no preconceived notion of what this is going to look like,” Pike said.
Rivers and Pike said they are in the process of reaching out to Oregon lawmakers and their Democratic counterparts in Washington. By the end of the month, they hope to have about 30 lawmakers signed on to the Bistate Bridge Coalition.
“The first and most important thing is to understand where the old project went wrong and have the candid discussion to determine: Is this really a needed project?” Rivers said. “We have a sense the answer will be yes.”
After Washington lawmakers declined to vote to pay their share of the Columbia River Crossing, Oregon’s governor pushed ahead to consider an Oregon-only project. The “go-it-alone strategy” failed to garner enough votes in 2014 and the project was declared dead.
Any new effort will “likely be many years away from action,” said Jared Mason-Gere, spokesman for Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, a proponent of the Oregon-led CRC. But, Mason-Gere said Friday, “clearly the problem is not going away.”
Ruling out rail
Although she wants to start from the beginning to find common ground, Pike said, “People have made it clear they aren’t interested in a light rail at the crossing.”
“That’s a lesson learned,” she said. “And we have to listen to the people.”
But one of the key backers of the Columbia River Crossing in Oregon said he doesn’t believe Oregon could get the votes without the light rail component.
Sen. Lee Beyer, D-Springfield, the chair of Oregon’s Senate Business and Transportation Committee, said that if the Washington lawmakers reach out to him, he would be willing to listen.
“I still think there is a need for a bridge,” he said.
But right now, “the governor shut it down on our side. We’re not putting any thought into it.”
And in Oregon, Beyer said, there is a bit of bridge-related fatigue. “I’m not terribly excited to spend a whole bunch of Oregon money on something where I can’t see a path to get a positive result,” he said.
There is also the question of whether the anticipated $850 million in federal funding would still be available.
Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, said Pike mentioned the coalition to her in passing.
“There was no detailed information, so I listened with interest but I have no idea what the impetus might be for this or who might participate,” Cleveland said. “I think there are a lot of disparate agendas.”
Oregon’s House Republican Leader, Mike McLane, said he’s hoping Washington lawmakers give him a call. McLane voted in favor of the project before Washington pulled out. He was an outspoken critic of the Oregon-only proposal.
“All of us who voted for it originally said we need to do something,” McLane said.
Clark County Commissioner David Madore has floated a plan to build a “East County Bridge” across the Columbia River. On Friday, Pike and Reps. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, and Brandon Vick, R-Felida, blasted the plan as a diversion.
“This is the corridor that needs to be worked on,” Pike said, referring to Interstate 5.