Opinion editorial by Rep. Liz Pike: Let’s press the reset button on the Columbia River Crossing
There is much disagreement over the entire Columbia River Crossing (CRC) project. But if there's one thing all of us can agree on – both opponents and proponents from Washington and Oregon, regardless of political persuasion – it is this: the CRC project is in total turmoil.
The Washington State Senate, along with support from many Vancouver-area lawmakers in the House, said no to the current design that includes light rail, and refused to provide Washington's portion of the funding. In a last-ditch effort to save the existing project, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a supporter of the light-rail component, appeared to give the green light to Oregon to go it alone, following a letter in September from Washington Attorney General's office stating, “We see no fatal flaws that would preclude Oregon's lead on the project.”
Now, Oregon lawmakers are in a quandary. Does Oregon proceed with a design the Washington State Senate and many Southwest Washington lawmakers have rejected? Does Oregon attempt to permit, acquire rights of way, build and toll a bridge without involvement of the Washington State Legislature? Oregon Treasurer Ted Wheeler has vowed not to issue CRC bonds without more assurances that Oregon could force Washington drivers to pay tolls to finance the $2.8 billion project. And then there's the question about whether Oregon could even successfully navigate a complicated network of intergovernmental agreements with Washington without approval from the Washington Legislature. Despite Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber's plea to his Legislature to take the lead, it is becoming increasingly apparent that many Oregon legislators think the financial and legal risks of doing the project alone are too high for their taxpayers.
So where does that leave us?
Some have suggested the entire project be abandoned, our losses cut, and we should walk away. Others say the existing bridges could be brought up to modern seismic standards for about the same amount it would take to demolish them. I believe the best option, however, is to press the reset button on the Columbia River Crossing project. Yes, begin from the beginning!
If Washington is to re-enter this project as a joint partner with Oregon, we must begin with a new design that EXCLUDES light rail. The insistence of a light-rail component into Clark County is why the CRC project is going nowhere now and in the future. Light rail is a political ideology, not a transportation solution, designed to change people's behaviors, reduce freedom of movement and expand the size of government. Clark County voters have repeatedly rejected Portland's light rail extension. They don't want it and they don't want to be tied to the financial debts of Tri-Met. If the CRC project is to have any chance of moving forward, the light-rail component must be removed!
Once light rail is off the table, we can move forward with a new CRC design that would expand general lane capacity to accommodate future traffic, provide for transit through expanded bus services, and be constructed high enough to allow sufficient clearance for river transport of economic goods. Pressing the reset button would eliminate years of potential legal entanglements between the two states so that Oregon taxpayers don't get left holding the bag and Clark County citizens are not encumbered with Tri-Met's debt. It would allow both states to rebuild trust, not only between themselves, but with all who would rely on this critical link between Washington and Oregon.
The framework of this reset button is in place in Washington through House Bill 2025, a measure I authored that would direct the Washington State Department of Transportation to prepare a new CRC design with a higher clearance and without light rail.
The current design of the CRC is fatally flawed. As long as political forces insist on embracing this flawed plan, there will be no new bridge. It's time to scrap that plan and press the reset button on the Columbia River Crossing.
Editor's note: Rep. Liz Pike, R-Camas, represents the 18th Legislative District and serves on the Washington House Transportation Committee. For more information about Rep. Pike, visit: www.representativelizpike.com
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