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.”
Rivers disagreed that removing light rail would create that lengthy of a delay on the project.
“I’m not convinced that it would be that significant,” she said. Removing light rail is “the financially sound thing to do and doesn’t place a burden on our children for generations to come,” she added.
Oregon commission advances tolling
Also on Wednesday, the Oregon Transportation Commission moved eventual tolling on Interstate 5 one step closer to reality. The commission authorized the CRC as a “tollway project.”
The action is similar to a move taken last year by the Washington Legislature, which authorized using tolls on I-5 to help pay for the project, said CRC spokeswoman Mandy Putney. Last year’s legislation also prohibited tolling on the nearby Interstate 205 bridge, but that doesn’t necessarily prohibit Oregon lawmakers from tolling the bridge.
Wednesday’s vote did not establish the actual rates drivers would pay to cross the Columbia River. That task falls to both states’ transportation commissions, who have indicated they will work jointly to set toll rates.
The CRC is currently scheduled to begin construction in late 2014. Project leaders have said tolling could begin as soon as 2015.