Wheeler: Oregon, Washington should 'get job done' on I-5 bridge

The Oregonian - Local News
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Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said Friday that officials in Oregon and Washington should begin working together again in earnest to replace the Interstate Bridge.

Wheeler: Oregon, Washington should 'get job done' on I-5 bridge
The Interstate Bridge spans the Columbia River between Hayden Island in north Portland and Vancouver. (Kristyna Wentz-Graff)

Yet Wheeler said he approaches talks of bridge replacement "with a healthy dose of skepticism," given that Oregon spent hundreds of millions of dollars on a river crossing project, and Washington terminated its efforts after its legislature failed to adopt funding.

Wheeler said any work by Oregon and Washington on a bridge replacement should involve the federal government. Neither state's departments of transportation should oversee the effort, he said.

The mayor said he understands officials' reservations about diving in again on a complex, expensive project. But he said leaders must press on.

"The reality is that drawbridge needs to be replaced," Wheeler said.

He went on: "If we just say we're so bruised because of what happened last time that we're going to not deal with it, what we're really saying is we couldn't get the job done so we're going to punt it to our kids and let them figure it out. That's not leadership. That's abdication of responsibility."

Wheeler said he has yet to decide if a bridge project must include a light rail component. But he praised Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle's concept that the bridge could be constructed to be "light rail-ready." He said he would insist on that standard as a minimum. That would be smart, he said, given his view that interstate light rail service will become necessary and practical someday "just by virtue of population growth."