Monday, January 17, 2022
Jan. 17, 2022

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Murray calls on local leaders to support I-5 bridge, with light rail

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U.S. Sen. Patty Murray on Wednesday called on local business and political leaders to come together in support of a new Interstate 5 bridge with light rail.

Murray, a Democrat elected to her fourth term in November, said she will fight for federal funding but said it will have to be matched by a local funding component. Project planners have identified a bridge toll as that local share.

“This community is going to have to coalesce around a fair and responsible tolling system,” Murray said.

Murray challenged tolling critics to identify an alternative.

“You can’t just say ‘no’ to tolling without saying what you think the regional funding component ought to be,” Murray said during the noon hour visit to the Vancouver Convention Center.

The lunch was sponsored by the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce, the Columbia River Economic Development Council and Identity Clark County.

Alluding to the shooting in Arizona earlier this month, Murray encouraged local leaders to be willing to stand up to critics.

“It isn’t easy to be an elected official these days,” Murray said. “We need local leaders to stand up and take a position.”

Murray, who chairs a key Senate transportation committee, has laid the groundwork for the Federal Transit Administration to underwrite $850 million in transit funding to build an extension of Portland’s light-rail transit system in downtown Vancouver. C-Tran will ask voters in November to boost the sales tax to generate an estimated $2 million to $3 million annually needed to operate it.

Business leaders seemed receptive to Murray’s message.

“The message I got was very clear,” said Bart Phillips, CEO of the Columbia River Economic Development Council. “‘If you want this project, you’re going to have to help me help you.'”

Estimated to cost $3.6 billion, the overall project would replace the existing twin three-lane drawbridges over the Columbia River with a 10-lane span, improve five miles of freeway and interchanges on both sides of the river, and extend light rail to Clark College. Project planners anticipate a three-way cost split among the federal government, the two states and local revenue generated by bridge tolls.

“I know there is a lot of consternation about how exactly we’re going to pay for this,” Murray said. “All of us would love it if the federal government paid for this whole thing.”

However, she said the federal highway trust fund is underfunded and no longer capable of underwriting major transportation projects without a substantial local funding share.

Furthermore, Murray contends that the project is unlikely to get built without light rail.

“It takes cars off the road, it reduces congestion, and you will propel this region with a 21st century transportation system,” she said. “It needs to happen if we want this project to compete for every possible pot of federal funding. If light rail is not approved, the region will be giving up any chance of possibly securing hundreds of millions of dollars of federal transit funding.”

Don Wagner, Washington’s co-director of the Columbia River Crossing office, said the inclusion of light rail — rather than dedicated lanes for bus rapid transit — will maximize the contribution of federal transit funding to build a combined highway and transit project.

Erik Robinson: 360-735-4551, or erik.robinson@columbian.com.

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