U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler and seven Southwest Washington state lawmakers have written to Gov. Jay Inslee asking him to “keep mass transit alternatives to light rail on the table” as part of negotiations to replace the Interstate 5 Bridge across the Columbia River.
The letter was prompted by news last week that Inslee included $17.5 million in his proposed budget for a project office to replace the I-5 Bridge. The budget item included language that light rail would be part of the project.
He also made remarks to The Columbian that including the means of transit on the bridge would signal to Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, who has insisted on light rail on a replacement crossing, that Washington would be a partner on the project. Inslee also said that the budget item would convey to the federal government that an actual project is in the works.
Washington has been seeking to restart talks with Oregon to replace the century-old I-5 Bridge since the collapse of the Columbia River Crossing five years ago. The letter states that while the lawmakers were encouraged that the governor’s budget contained funding for a bridge replacement, they were “dismayed to find that the proposal also contains a statement that any new bridge will include light rail, with no consideration of alternative transit options.”
“We all agree on the pressing need to address the congestion and safety issues at the current I-5 Bridge, and it’s imperative that we all work together on a long-term solution that both sides of the river can support,” reads the letter that was also signed by Sen. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver; Sen. Ann Rivers, R- La Center; John Braun, R-Centralia; Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver; Rep. Brandon Vick, R-Felida; Rep. Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis; Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama.
The letter cites three advisory votes, most recently in 2013, where a majority of Clark County voters expressed opposition to extending light rail to the county.
Last week, a bistate committee formed to look into replacing the bridge met for the first time with Oregon lawmakers. Wilson, Rivers and Orcutt are serving as members of the committee.
“It’s not just faithful representation that demands we remain open-minded to transit alternatives, it’s also practical politics for those of us who actually want to solve the problems on the I-5 corridor,” reads the letter.
The letter states that the Columbia River Crossing failed “in large part due to the insistence of politicians and bureaucrats” that the project extend light rail to Clark County.
“Those who refuse to learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” reads the letter.
Since Washington lawmakers began seeking to restart talks with Oregon about replacing the I-5 Bridge, most of Clark County’s legislative delegation has expected that mass transit will be included on the new crossing. There’s also broad support among the county’s delegation that bus rapid transit would be an acceptable option.
The letter states that the lawmakers were encouraged by Inslee’s remarks to The Columbian that he was “not foreclosing on other alternatives” and asked him to “further elaborate on your position to clarify that you are open-minded on the topic.”
Tara Lee, spokeswoman for Inslee responded with a statement:
“Gov. Inslee and Gov. Brown have worked to align our states for a restart of the project, and it’s good to see that elected, tribal, business, labor, and environmental leaders in both Washington and Oregon have expressed interest in coming back to the table. We encourage the lawmakers who signed the letter to focus on what’s practical and join us in advancing this reinvigorated bistate effort that moves this critical project forward.”