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News / Clark County News

Columbia crossing sponsors drive toward agreement

By Erik Robinson
Published: March 12, 2010, 12:00am

PORTLAND — Local elected officials on Friday merged closer toward consensus on a multibillion-dollar plan to replace the Interstate 5 Bridge across the Columbia River.

That doesn’t mean the road ahead won’t be without speed bumps, however.

“I’m optimistic we can work together in a way that’s timely, but that also produces something that we can all agree on,” Clark County Commissioner Steve Stuart said at the conclusion of a Project Sponsors Council meeting today in downtown Portland.

Elected officials in Clark County remain concerned about bridge tolls on Washingtonians commuting to work in Oregon, while Portland-area politicians are wary of a 10-lane bridge shifting congestion from the river into the center of Portland.

“Typically, when you add more capacity in an urban environment, it gets sucked up by cars,” said David Bragdon, president of the Portland-area Metro council. “If (the new bridge) induces more cars, how are we better off?”

The group agreed to meet again next Thursday to hammer out some of the differences that emerged with a Jan. 19 letter from four members of the council calling the crossing, as currently designed and financed, “unacceptable.” Govs. Chris Gregoire and Ted Kulongoski responded last month by directing state transportation planners to move the project forward without delay.

The project is currently estimated to cost between $2.6 billion and $3.6 billion.

It would replace two existing three-lane drawbridges over the Columbia, improve four miles of freeway, and extend Portland’s light rail system into downtown Vancouver. Planners anticipate needing at least $400 million in federal highway funding for the project, along with $750 million to build the light rail line.

Council chairman Henry Hewitt, a Portland attorney who’s been involved in transportation issues for two decades, offered a bit of legal perspective at the conclusion of today’s meeting.

“If local elected officials don’t support it, it won’t happen,” Hewitt said. “That’s the beginning and end of the legal analysis.”