Backers of the proposed $3.5 billion Columbia River Crossing project suffered a defeat in Washington last night when Clark County voters rejected a ballot measure that would help pay for operations of the light-rail component of the project. The latest numbers show the measure, which would provide $2.5 million annually for operations of the proposed Portland-to-Vancouver MAX expansion, failing 56 percent to 44 percent.

But on the Oregon side of the Columbia River, prospects for convincing the 2013 Legislature improved. The plan for funding the CRC includes asking the legislatures in both Washington and Oregon for $450 million each early next year.

Two of the project's loudest critics, however, will no longer have a platform from which to question the dubious assumptions on which it is based. Two-term state Rep. Jefferson Smith (D-East Portland), a longtime opponent of the project, lost in the Portland mayor's race and will not return to the House. First-term incumbent Rep. Katie Eyre (R-Hillsboro), who bucked powerful business interests close to her caucus who wanted the bridge built, lost a re-election bid to Ben Unger.

Not only will Smith and Eyre be absent from the House but Democrats' pickup last night of four seats will very likely propel Rep. Tina Kotek (D-North/Northeast Portland) into the speaker's chair.

If built, the CRC will fall within Kotek's district. She has been consistently supportive of the project, both for the construction jobs it will create and because the freight mobility and environmental benefits she expects the improvements will bring.