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News / Clark County News

CRC begins close-out of Vancouver project office

By Eric Florip, Columbian Transportation & Environment Reporter
Published: June 30, 2013, 5:00pm

The Columbia River Crossing expects to shut down and vacate its downtown Vancouver offices by the end of this year, possibly sooner, a project representative said Monday.

Officials adjust focus to future bridge replacement.

Spokeswoman Mandy Putney said the CRC office looked “just like any normal day at the office” on the first business day after the Washington and Oregon governors pulled the plug on the planned Interstate 5 Bridge replacement over the weekend. Staff began meeting to discuss archiving records, coordinating the close-out and other logistical details, she said. People weren’t packing boxes yet, Putney said, “but definitely moving in that direction.”

The failed megaproject effectively died when it received no financial commitment from the Washington Legislature before lawmakers adjourned. On Saturday, the state Senate turned back an effort to help fund the $3.4 billion CRC as part of a larger transportation package. The final push came just hours before the final gavel fell.

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State leaders soon confirmed that the project would begin closing down. The next day, CRC staffers received an email on behalf of Washington Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson and Oregon Department of Transportation Director Matt Garrett.

“Without Washington’s financial support for the CRC, we are unable to continue project operations,” the email read. “Governor Inslee and Governor Kitzhaber, both of whom remain solid supporters of CRC, have asked us to develop and implement a plan to close down the project, effective immediately.”

Unanswered questions

Officials said specifics of that plan are still developing. Several questions remain unanswered — multiple agencies were in the process of reviewing permits for the CRC, including the U.S. Coast Guard. It’s too soon to tell what will become of those reviews, Putney said. The CRC is also the subject of pending litigation.

Earlier this year, Federal Highway Administration officials indicated that the CRC might have to repay the tens of millions of federal dollars it received if the project did not materialize. An agency spokesman said Monday that question is under review, but no decision has been made.

The CRC spent more than $170 million in planning.

The project office includes about 96 workers. Many are consultants, and presumably will continue to work for their respective firms in a different capacity. Others could be transferred to other state agencies, while still others may end up without a job.

News of the CRC’s demise rippled well outside of the project’s downtown offices. C-Tran, a local sponsoring agency of the project, has halted all work related to the CRC, said interim public affairs director Jim Quintana.

C-Tran leaders had been wrestling with the question of how — or if — to pay the local operating cost of a light rail extension into Vancouver, planned as part of the CRC. The project also would have rebuilt freeway interchanges on both sides of the Columbia River.

C-Tran staff didn’t hold any formal meetings on the subject Monday, Quintana said. Like others, C-Tran staffers are simply trying to sort out the implications of a major project’s disbanding before it ever broke ground.

“It’s really strange,” Quintana said. “After putting so much energy and that much time into something, I imagine it’s going to be a major adjustment for a lot of people.”

The Oregon Legislature authorized $450 million for the CRC this year on a contingent basis, so that will now disappear without a similar commitment from Washington. Lawmakers in Olympia had approved $82 million in planning money for the CRC as part of an earlier transportation budget, separate from the revenue package that ultimately failed. But Gov. Jay Inslee vetoed the CRC planning money, calling for a full commitment.

It was a gamble Inslee ultimately lost. The CRC ended up with nothing. Directions to close down the project soon followed.

“We were preparing for any sort of outcome,” Putney said. “This is not the one we had hoped for.”

Officials adjust focus to future bridge replacement.

Columbian Transportation & Environment Reporter