Some Southwest Washington lawmakers wanted to send a clear message to their counterparts in Oregon: They’re unified and ready to discuss a new crossing over the Columbia River.
Instead, a familiar message of distrust, divisiveness and political gridlock emerged.
For the second legislative session in a row, Reps. Liz Pike, R-Camas, and Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver, teamed up to champion a measure that would create a bistate bridge coalition.
House Bill 2414 would carve out $100,000 to create a work group of lawmakers from both sides of the river to discuss how to improve congestion over the Columbia River.
Three years after the Washington Legislature voted to kill the Columbia River Crossing, any conversation about possible crossings or upgrades remains contentious.
On Friday afternoon, Wylie admitted “it may be too soon” to try to convince people to come back to the table.
Both Wylie and Pike said their latest effort is likely dead, although they are quick to point out nothing is truly dead in the Legislature until the final gavel falls.
Outsiders look at the bill, Wylie said, and say, “What’s wrong with it? What’s wrong with talking?”
But with political tensions particularly high in an election year, others have voiced concerns that the bill is causing too much angst.
“I’m not going to speculate on everyone’s inner thoughts and motives, but I am convinced these thoughts and motives are strong right now and (the bill) is not going to move,” Wylie said.
Last legislative session, a similar measure sailed out of the House, only to die a relatively quiet death in the Senate. It never made it out of committee. Pike and Wylie said the bill is once again stalled due to lack of support in the Senate.
Sens. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, and Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, are quick to point out the measure hasn’t made it to the Senate, and therefore a lack of support from the upper chamber is not a valid claim.
“It never came to the Senate, and so it’s not been on my radar,” Rivers said. “The sponsors didn’t educate me about the bill. I remain committed to finding a solution for the congested Interstate 5 corridor.”
Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt was direct.
“Pure and simple, it’s poor politics at play,” Leavitt said.
“It should come to nobody’s surprise, particularly anybody who pays attention to issues and politics that the likelihood of this bill making it through the House and Senate is very limited,” Leavitt said.
Leavitt placed the bulk of the blame with Pike, calling her a chief architect in killing the Columbia River project.
“Now all of a sudden, there’s been a grand awakening and an effort to get out in front and declare she wants to be the one to solve the Interstate 5 corridor? It’s dubious at best and plain toxic at worst,” Leavitt said. “There is no reason why anyone who has been involved in the (CRC) project would have any reason to trust somebody like Liz.”
Pike points out the measure passed out of the House Transportation committee unanimously earlier this session. The $100,000 was stripped as a formality, intended to be put back in during the budget negotiation process, both Pike and Wylie said.
Pike said she spoke with Sen. Curtis King, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, and asked if any part of the measure needs to be changed. She was told it’s not the tenets of the bill and it’s not her involvement with the measure, she said.
Instead, it’s “too many senators … who can’t get past the demise of the CRC.”
“It’s a death, and their mourning period is too long,” Pike said.
The Republican from Camas pushed back on Leavitt’s notion that her involvement is derailing the bill.
“People don’t want a costly, overbuilt project, and they need their voices defended, and I’m going to do that,” she said.