Senate Bill 5090 would have to pass the state House, which has a Democratic majority, and get the signature of Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee, who has said he supports light rail on the CRC.
As proposed, the $3.5 billion CRC project would replace the Interstate 5 Bridge over the Columbia River, rebuild freeway interchanges and extend a light rail line from Portland into Vancouver. The CRC plans call for Washington and Oregon to chip in $450 million each. Project leaders hope both states’ legislatures commit to at least some of that money this year.
Benton and Rivers are among a group of Republican lawmakers from Southwest Washington who have called for a redesign of the CRC that excludes light rail.
In a statement they signed in November, Benton and Rivers acknowledged that a redesign of the CRC would take more time, but “we know (a bridge replacement) cannot succeed without our support … . Once there is a project alternative that has the support of Clark County citizens, we will put all of our resources into making the bridge project a reality.”
Benton, who did not return a call on Wednesday, has said in the past that he could discuss doling out state money for the CRC “if the light rail component comes off.”
Local leaders picked light rail as part of the preferred alternative for the CRC in 2008. Subsequent studies — and a federal Record of Decision in 2011 — are tied to that design. CRC supporters say light rail remains an essential component of the project, and removing it would mean having to start over, potentially setting the process back years.
In October, state Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond made it clear that’s not a path the CRC is planning to pursue this late in the game.
“If you don’t have light rail on the bridge, you don’t have a project,” Hammond told a legislative oversight committee gathered in Vancouver.
Moeller reiterated that point Wednesday, saying that removing light rail would delay replacing the I-5 Bridge for an entire generation.
“That means we’re going to have to go back to the drawing board,” Moeller said. “That puts us back another 15 years. We miss our window of opportunity for funding.”