At today's 10th Oregon Leadership Summit, Gov. John Kitzhaber did what he could to put the best face on the controversial $3.5 billion Columbia River Crossing project.
"I met with legislative leadership last week and they agreed to prioritize this project in 2013," Kitzhaber told the assembled throng of business leaders and elected officials.
In the budget he released Nov. 30, Kitzhaber anticipated lawmakers appropriating $450 million next year for Oregon's contribution to the CRC. He said Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire and her successor, Gov.-elect Jay Inslee, have pledged to include the project in their 2013 transportation budget.
"It's important to get this done by March 1," Kitzahaber said of Oregon's CRC appropriation..
Talking to reporters afterward, Kitzhaber said he expected to resolve as soon as next month Coast Guard concerns that the design will result in a bridge too low for marine traffic. He also downplayed the resounding defeat earlier this month in Clark County of a measure that would have provided operating funds for the light-rail line to Vancouver included in the CRC plan.
"That was put on the ballot by people who don't support the bridge," Kitzhaber told reporters.
In the morning session of the summit, five Oregon lawmakers and U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) took part in a panel discussion titled "Time to Build the Bridge!"
Portland economist Joe Cortright, a longtime critic of the project, watched from the audience. He brought with him a handout that included four graphs. One showed I-5 bridge traffic is 17,000 vehicles per day below Oregon Department of Transportation forecasts. Another showed gas consumption is about 30 percent behind ODOT's 2005 forecast, which means gas taxes, a major source of ODOT funding and potential bridge funding source, are similarly lagging. A third showed truck traffic crossing the Columbia is down 23 percent since 2006. And the last showed that vehicle miles traveled per capita are also way behind forecast.
Cortright says he was not invited to join the panel discussion. "I'm really surprised they processed my registration to come to this summit," he told WW.