We all know what happens to those who fail to learn from the past. As we consider any renewed effort to come up with a plan to replace the dangerous Interstate 5 Bridge, it is imperative that we apply the lessons of the more than 10-year effort to build the Columbia River Crossing.
So what did we learn?
First, we learned that a decade-long process of designs, plans and public meetings can be derailed at the 11th hour, wasting millions of dollars already spent and leaving hundreds of millions of federal dollars on the table. We can’t afford to squander taxpayer dollars like that.
That is why I proposed Senate Bill 5118 at the outset of the 2015 legislative session. This legislation would establish guidelines and accountability measures for pursuing a bistate transportation megaproject to make sure additional taxpayer dollars aren’t wasted in the years to come.
Senate Republicans declined to hold a hearing on my bill, denying us a common-sense path forward. Their unwillingness to consider this legislation leaves me questioning what the goal is. Is the goal to find a way to move forward together? Or is the goal to continue to foster division and discord?
Second, we know that Oregon views light rail as a prerequisite of any new bridge. Apart from the merits of that insistence, one thing is clear: Any new bridge proposal must involve Oregon officials in the planning from square one. Either opponents of light rail must persuade Oregon and light-rail proponents in our state to pass on light rail, or proponents must persuade opponents of the need for light rail. Otherwise, either side can pull the plug on any plan and waste more millions of taxpayer dollars, as we watched happen in 2013.
Again, that’s why I proposed SB 5118. We need all voices in the room. I was at the center of the CRC debate in 2013 and I witnessed firsthand how and why over 10 years of work and millions of taxpayer dollars went up in smoke overnight. We can’t afford to repeat that kind of waste and dysfunction; our taxpayers expect better, and rightly so. That’s why SB 5118 requires bistate participation from the start of any new plan.
By contrast, a plan offered recently by two of my legislative colleagues was developed in a vacuum without any consideration of the interests of Oregon. That’s a recipe for failure.
We can, and must, replace the I-5 Bridge with a modern structure before a serious earthquake sends everyone traveling across the existing spans into the Columbia River. No one wants to see that scenario play out, but every day we waste brings us another day closer to a nightmare reality. We need to act, and we need to act constructively and responsibly.
We need a process that assures taxpayers that their money won’t be wasted by 11th-hour disagreement. We need an I-5 bridge plan as part of any transportation revenue package this session. And we need to utilize as much of the design work performed for the CRC as is applicable. Instead of rebuilding the wheel, we should start by identifying aspects of a bridge plan that we all agree on.
If we learned anything from the decade-long effort to build the CRC, it is that no idea or proposal will succeed without a process that commits all parties to negotiate earnestly and constructively. That should be our blueprint. Without that, even the greatest idea in the world will go nowhere.
Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, represents the 49th Legislative District and serves on the Senate Transportation Committee. Email: Annette.Cleveland@leg.wa.gov.