The naked truth about the demise of the Columbia River Crossing project is this: The need hasn’t gone away.The Interstate 5 bridge remains a blockade to progress and development and growth in this region — and that will continue to be the case until a suitable replacement has been constructed. Problems don’t turn into solutions through intransigence or stubbornness; they are transformed by ideas and outside-the-box thinking.
Because of that, a group of about 80 local business leaders and CRC supporters have contacted the governors of Washington and Oregon with a proposal for moving the project forward. (Full disclosure: Scott Campbell and Jody Campbell, owners of The Columbian, are among the co-signers.)
The idea: A scaled-back plan that would replace the bridge, include light rail, revamp the state Highway 14 interchange on the Washington side of the river, and allow Oregon to reconfigure interchanges to the south of the bridge. Any additional freeway work in Washington would wait until the legislature has provided funds for such construction.
The proposal, according to supporters, would cost $2.75 billion, down from the previous price tag of $3.5 billion. That original plan died the death of neglect earlier this year in the Washington Legislature. While the federal government had promised $850 million for the construction of light rail and Oregon had pledged its $450 million contribution to the plan, Washington scuttled the project by choosing not to approve its $450 million share.
There are many valid reasons for opposing the CRC as it is designed. For local legislators, one of the primary sticking points is the need to include tolls across the bridge — a large percentage of which would be paid by Clark County residents. Another point of contention is the extension of Portland’s light rail into Vancouver, a move opposed by many local residents.
But while the project is imperfect and the process has been flawed, the end result was not an off-the-cuff decision. Millions of dollars, years of work and thousands of public comments went into formulating the best possible plan. With two states, the federal government and several regional transportation stakeholders involved, the notion that a plan could please everybody is absurd.
That is the thinking behind the latest proposal: We have come too far in this process to start from scratch. Insanity, they say, is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.
As the letter to Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber states, “We cannot afford to walk away from thousands of hours of public involvement and community leadership on both sides of the river, reams of technical data, a completed federal environmental review process, and an investment of $175 million taxpayer dollars, without exhausting every possibility.”
Clark County Commissioners, meanwhile, last week approved a series of advisory votes — including several relating to a new bridge and/or light rail — to be placed on the ballot for the November general election. The idea of asking the public for input is commendable, and it is one The Columbian has supported in the past. But at this point, it comes across as nothing more than a stall tactic. The CRC plan has been more than a decade in the making; it is time to move the project forward, not to wallow in the notion that we need to rethink this.
The time for action has arrived, and last week’s proposal from local leaders is a reasonable place to start.