Light rail “is a critical part of an integrated, multimodal, bistate solution that improves safety, manages traffic, protects air quality and supports the region’s economy,” Raphael said. “Governor Kitzhaber has been clear from the start: No light rail. No project. No kidding.”
State Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, seemed unfazed by the Oregon governor’s comments. She said if Oregon’s support falls through for the project, “it’s just another hurdle to overcome. We can get there.”
Rivers, who has spoken out against light rail, said she would hope that even if light rail is removed from the equation, Oregon officials would still help replace the Interstate 5 Bridge.
“It would be great to have their cooperation,” Rivers said. “Making a comment like (Kitzhaber’s) doesn’t really show that they’re very willing to cooperate.”
To keep the project going on its current time line, Washington and Oregon this year are expected to jointly commit to about $900 million of the CRC’s total cost. Plans call for federal funding sources and tolling to cover the rest. Oregon legislators have already approved spending Oregon’s share of $450 million on the CRC, but that spending agreement is contingent on whether Washington legislators do the same this year.
If both states’ CRC money is dedicated by September, and all else goes as planned, construction on the bridge is expected to begin late next year. If not, the project will be delayed, but the length of that delay is a source of political contention.
All of the milestones the CRC has passed so far — environmental work, funding assumptions, the federal record of decision — center on the light rail plan local leaders approved in 2008. Changing course now would essentially mean starting from scratch, then-Washington State Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond said late last year.
Even if removing light rail were an option, designers can’t simply lop off the bottom half of the planned deck truss bridge design and still expect it to function, CRC project director Nancy Boyd said.
Although Washington leaders at the executive level are strong supporters of the CRC as planned, the project’s fate rests in the Legislature, which appears divided over the megaproject. The Democratic-led House of Representatives is moving through a bill that would raise gas taxes and other fees to pay for the CRC and other large transportation projects. Meanwhile, conservatives who control the Senate don’t seem convinced that delaying the project is such a bad thing.
Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, told The Seattle Times that if Oregon walks away from the project, then “that would be way too bad for Oregon. What will eventually happen is those folks who are working in Oregon will eventually get tired of the commute and they will find jobs in Washington.”
In addition to replacing the I-5 Bridge and extending Portland’s light-rail system into Vancouver, the CRC project would rebuild five miles of freeway and freeway interchanges near the bridge.
Eric Florip of The Columbian contributed to this report.
Stevie Mathieu: 360-735-4523 or www.facebook.com/reportermathieu or www.twitter.com/col_politics or firstname.lastname@example.org