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March 7, 2021

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House bill backing I-5 Bridge replacement wins approval

Legislation must be reconciled with similar bill previously passed by Senate

By , Columbian Political Writer
Published:

Southwest Washington lawmakers are determined to prove to their counterparts in Oregon that they are ready to revive conversations about a replacing the Interstate 5 Bridge.

“The Columbia River Crossing (project) is dead. The federal money is gone, but we still need a bridge,” Rep. Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver, said on the House floor of the Legislature on Monday afternoon. Later, she added, “Oregon has been waiting for a serious signal, that’s why this project is designated as statewide significance. It’s terminology that makes sense to them. It’s terminology they use.”

House Bill 2095 passed 60-38 and now heads to the Senate for consideration.

Republican Paul Harris of Vancouver would like to send another message to the group of people, including some of his colleagues in the Legislature who want to focus on a third, new crossing over the Columbia River before easing congestion on the I-5 Bridge.

“I think the idea Oregon is going to look at other corridors before the I-5. … I’m sorry, that is not going to happen,” Harris said, adding: “There should be multiple crossings across the river, I completely agree. This is the first step.”

Part of the goal of designating the bridge a project of statewide significance was to quell a growing movement of those pushing to focus first on a third east-or-west county bridge before addressing the aging I-5 crossing. A companion bill in the Senate stripped the “statewide significance” language from the bill, but the legislative intent remains the same. Both versions of the bill call for an inventory and cataloguing of all the previous work done on the Columbia River Crossing project. The measures would create a legislative action committee, made up of key stakeholders and Department of Transportation employees in Oregon and Washington.

The bill carves out $350,000 for the necessary work and mandates an inventory report from the Washington State Department of Transportation back to the Legislature by Dec. 1. It continues to keep any talk of mass transit vague. Both bills call for an examination of all the crossings over the Columbia, but continue to prioritize the I-5 Bridge.

Rep. Liz Pike, R-Camas, one of only two local Southwest Washington delegation members to oppose the bill, said it’s time for a “visionary” measure, not a “reactionary, rearview mirror” bill examining what was.

“The people imagine dusting off all those plans and all those permits is going to bring (the Columbia River Crossing) back to life, and I don’t blame them. I agree with them,” Pike said.

Freshman lawmaker Vicki Kraft, R-Vancouver, said the region needs to focus on a third bridge, before addressing the Interstate 5 corridor.

“Wherever it is, west or east of I-5, it means adding capacity,” Kraft said.

Several opponents of the Columbia River Crossing urged their colleagues to vote in favor of the measure, pointing out it’s simply a process bill that won’t resurrect the defunct Columbia River Crossing. Rep. Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver, listed the many local groups — from the Clark County Associations of Realtors to the city of Vancouver — that have written urging lawmakers to pass the measure.

But Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, a proponent of a third bridge, said he isn’t convinced Oregon will even have the bandwidth to participate in the process.

“This isn’t a priority for them, and I’m worried we’ll spend $350,000 and we’re not even going to see Oregon come to the table,” Orcutt said.

Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek’s spokeswoman told The Columbian previously they are watching to see what action the Washington Legislature takes this session.

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