The Joint Oregon-Washington Legislative Action Committee held its inaugural meeting Thursday to resume talks on replacing the Interstate 5 Bridge.
Legislative leaders from Washington also met for another reason: To show Oregon they’re serious about replacing the aging and frequently congested bridge that is a key component of the corridor through Portland and Vancouver.
Lawmakers said they’re hopeful the meeting draws Oregon to the table. So far, the state has appointed no delegates to a committee created in Olympia last session by SB 5806, a bill that called on both states to appoint members to work again on replacing the bridge.
“I believe Oregon, in the past, has been very clear with us in that they need to see a firm commitment from this side of the river (for a) renewed effort to replace the I-5 Bridge,” said Sen. Annette Cleveland, a Vancouver Democrat who sits on the committee.
The same bill that created the joint committee also required the Washington State Department of Transportation to complete a report detailing past work done on the Columbia River Crossing.
Lawmakers spent Thursday night’s meeting reviewing that lengthy report.
Both Cleveland and state Rep. Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver, said they hope completing that milestone also shows Oregon they’re committed to working together again.
During the meeting, Kris Stickler, WSDOT regional administrator for Southwest Washington, presented an overview of the 158-page report that detailed the history, development and process behind the Columbia River Crossing, as well as data used to justify it.
It wasn’t immediately clear how much of the past work could be applied to a future project.
Stickler said that even if all the funding for the project was in place and there was 100 percent agreement on a bridge replacement, there would still be regulatory hurdles to clear before work could begin.
He said that the new project would need to restart the federal National Environmental Policy Act process, which evaluates the environmental impact of it. He said that completing the process is three to five years out.
Financing for the Columbia River Project was expected to come from a mix of federal and state funds as well as tolls. He said that toll revenue was expected to be between $900 million and $1.3 billion.
“I don’t see a funding scenario that wouldn’t include tolling of some kind,” said Stickler in response to a question posed by state Sen. Lynda Wilson, a Vancouver Republican who sits on the committee.
“I would say at this point it is safe to say that we don’t have a reliable finance plan to lean on,” he added.
Wilson expressed concern that tolls would primarily impact Clark County commuters and asked Stickler to examine ways to ease their impact.
She also called attention to a concerning statistic in the report. It states that “(by) 2030, the number of large trucks using the Interstate Bridge was expected to increase by 77 percent. More than $40 billion worth of freight moved across the Interstate Bridge each year, expected to increase to more than $70 billion by 2030.”
The report cites a separate report issued in 2005 that found that the “failure to invest adequately in transportation improvements would result in a potential loss valued at $844 million annually by 2025 and cost the region 6,500 jobs.”
Wilson asked what the department had done since then, saying that “this is a pretty big deal.”
Stickler said that there had been some improvements to the corridor that have had limited effects.