Oregon appoints eight to I-5 Bridge panel

Legislators will join Washington counterparts as states move past Columbia River Crossing’s failure

The Columbian - Local News
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Oregon is revving up efforts on the south side of the Columbia River to replace the Interstate 5 Bridge.

Oregon appoints eight to I-5 Bridge panel
Zach Wilkinson/The Columbian

Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney and Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek announced Wednesday they have appointed eight legislators to an I-5 Bridge committee.

“That thing needs to be fixed,” Courtney, D-Salem, said in a phone interview. “I just want to get it done. … That bridge is in very bad shape, whether it’s earthquakes you are talking about or the volume of traffic.”

Courtney said replacing the bridge “is so overdue” and “we don’t have time to play cutesy political games.”

“If you lose that bridge, we don’t know what suffering is,” he said about an earthquake toppling the twin spans, which were built in 1917 and 1958. “We are going to be in a world of hurt.”

Wednesday’s appointments are another indication that officials from both states are moving past the wreckage of the Columbia River Crossing, a $3 billion-plus project that fell apart in 2013 after the Washington Senate balked at funding this state’s portion of the project.

Earlier this year, the Washington Legislature allocated $35 million to replacing the I-5 Bridge: $17.5 million for a project office, and $17.5 million for planning and pre-design of a new bridge.

Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, welcomed Wednesday’s announcement from Oregon’s legislative leaders.

“I consider it a tremendous step forward that coupled with Oregon’s commitment to providing some funding,” Cleveland said in a phone interview. “I think it really sets us up in good stead for taking this issue up in earnest.”

The Oregon Transportation Commission has identified $5 million for a bridge project office, she said.

Cleveland said the Oregon legislators will join her and seven other Washington lawmakers on the Joint Oregon-Washington Legislative Action Committee.

Other Clark County legislators serving on the committee are Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, Sen. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver, Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, Rep. Brandon Vick, R-Vancouver, and Rep. Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver. The other two Washington members are Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, and Rep. Jake Fey, D-Tacoma, chairman of the House Transportation Committee.

Cleveland said the biggest challenge ahead will be to reach consensus on the process for replacing the bridge, including a public discussion over transit.

One of the more contentious items that led to the Columbia River Crossing’s demise was connecting Vancouver to Portland’s light-rail system. Since then, C-Tran has launched bus rapid transit on Fourth Plain Boulevard and is working on a second bus rapid transit line on Mill Plain Boulevard.

“I don’t think there is disagreement that we need to replace that antiquated 100-year-old I-5 Bridge,” Cleveland said. “I am very encouraged by the trust that the leadership in Oregon is placing in us over here in Washington to sit down and have an overall successful discussion.”

Courtney and Kotek referenced the Washington Legislature’s recent financial commitment and its previous action to establish the Legislative Action Committee.

“Washington’s emerging leadership on this issue has given us confidence they are committed to this project,” the two legislative leaders wrote in a letter to Sen. Lee Beyer, D-Springfield, and Rep. Susan McLain, D-Hillsboro, co-chairs of the eight-person Oregon delegation.

“Now is the time to accept Washington’s invitation to participate in a formal process to secure this critical regional corridor. We ask that you reach out to your colleagues in Washington and schedule a meeting as soon as practicable.”

Courtney, when asked what would be different this time compared with the failed Columbia River Crossing, replied with his trademark bluntness.

“I have no idea if anything is going to be different,” he said. “We will find out if we have what it takes to make it happen.”