SW Washington Republicans: Let’s start over on CRC project

SW Washington Republicans: Let’s start over on CRC project

U.S. House T & I hearing-7

U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler wants the
CRC to go back to the drawing board.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

The Columbian just reported a whopper of a story about the Columbia River Crossing project:

It’s time to go back to the drawing board and come up with a new plan to replace the Interstate 5 Bridge over the Columbia River, U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, and several other Republican lawmakers from Southwest Washington, said in a statement issued today.

Rep. Beutler and nine other Republican politicians in southwest Washington are feeling emboldened after the elections and the rejection of Proposition 1 (a tax from C-Tran that would have provided operating funds for light rail on the CRC).

The statement lists several of the project’s nagging problems and lawmakers say without a re-design they can support, the project is never going to happen. Here’s an excerpt (download the letter here):

“We want this process to move forward, but it’s time for compromise. Rather than issue ultimatums over what Clark County residents must accept, the CRC must produce a design that can earn the support of communities that rely on the I-5 roadway and Columbia River. That is the only way this needed project will succeed.”

It’s fascinating at this stage — after we, taxpayers, have spent almost $200 million planning for this mega-project — to have such high-level leaders asking for a re-start.

And what type of design do Rep. Herrera Beutler and her colleagues want to see? They didn’t offer any specifics, but they are not fans of light-rail or tolls or bikeways — three things folks on the Oregon side have said are must-haves.

This news comes after the CRC’s funding picture was made even cloudier on election night. But despite the bad news on the funding side of things, in terms of lawmakers that actually support the project, the election was a boost. One of the project’s largest critics in Salem, Jefferson Smith, won’t return his old job after losing the race for Portland Mayor. Democrats — many of them that have voted to support the CRC in the past — picked up control of the House. With a CRC-friendly House and Senate controlled by Democrats, Governor Kitzhaber, who has said the project is a priority, would seem to have even more power to push it through.

Another boost for CRC backers from the election is the rising star of Washington State Senator Patty Murray. She was a key architect of the Democrats hugely successful national election results on Tuesday night and she’s also a big supporter of the CRC. In a story published today, The Oregonian said her new clout, “could bring benefits to Oregon.” Would the CRC be considered one of them?

It will be interesting to see how/if state DOT officials and project staff react to the statement. Citizens and advocacy groups have been making a similar request for years; but they’ve always been dismissed. “We can’t start over now,” they’ve been told.

Now, more than any time in recent memory, the CRC project seems to be in complete disarray. An organized cadre of southwest Washington Republicans are staunchly against it (at least in its current form), while one powerful Washington Democrat is for it and Democrats in Oregon are in a great position to bolster its chances. But the funding picture is still bleak.

It remains to be seen whether or not any amount of political support for the $3.5 billion project — regardless of its design — will be enough to move it forward.

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