U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, pledged Monday to help bring in federal gas tax funding for a potential new Interstate 5 Bridge replacement project. But she also called for the planning process to be mindful of the concerns of Southwest Washington residents.
Washington and Oregon are early in a process of developing a project to replace the aging twin spans that carry I-5 across the Columbia River. The Interstate Bridge Replacement Program began in earnest last year when both states kicked in funding for early planning work and established a new project office. A bi-state legislative committee held its first meeting last fall in Vancouver.
It’s the first serious attempt at a bridge replacement following the $3 billion Columbia River Crossing (CRC) project, which fell apart in 2013 when the Washington Senate failed to provide the state’s portion of the construction funding.
In a letter to newly appointed project administrator Greg Johnson, Herrera Beutler urged him to engage with Southwest Washington residents and “avoid the pitfalls that doomed” the previous project.
“The project, like the CRC, will fail if one state dictates to the other, or if transportation officials only pay lip service to stakeholders’ concerns while making decisions behind closed doors,” she wrote. “Concerns raised by Southwest Washington residents during the CRC project — and more recently on Oregon’s current tolling scheme — were not taken into account.”
Herrera Beutler outlined three primary goals for the basic design of a new I-5 Bridge: provide a shorter and safer commute, allow freight to move more efficiently, and meet present-day seismic resilience standards.
“Hopefully, we can all agree” on those goals, she wrote, and added that achieving the goals would require “a transparent, inclusive process that earns widespread support on both sides of the Columbia River.”
Notably absent from Herrera Beutler’s list was any mention of public transportation, which is often cited as one of the sticking points that led to the CRC impasse; Oregon wanted to extend Portland’s light rail system across the new bridge to reach Vancouver, but Clark County didn’t.
Discussions for the new project have so far tip-toed around the light rail issue, instead focusing on broader terms such as high-capacity transit. That could include alternative approaches such as bus rapid transit.
The bistate legislative committee meetings have continued remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the next meeting is scheduled for Thursday.