January 24th, 2014 | by NIGEL JAQUISS News | Posted In: Legislature, Transportation, Politics

Leading CRC Supporter Says Oregon "Done With The Bridge Issue"

"The bridge issue is dead in our state," a key Oregon lawmaker says. The House speaker disagrees.

news2_crc_3814Proposed Columbia River Crossing

One of the strongest legislative supporters of the proposed Columbia River Crossing project, Sen. Lee Beyer (D-Springfield), chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, appears to have given up on the project, according to an email obtained by the The Columbian.

Gov. John Kitzhaber and other backers of the CRC went all-in with a Jan. 14 legislative hearing in Salem designed to rally support for the proposed $2.8 billion highway project connecting Portland and Vancouver. They had hoped to move lawmakers toward a showing of support for the CRC in the upcoming February legislative session.

But that hearing was a debacle, as skeptical lawmakers from both parties punched holes in supporters' gossamer-thin explanation of how an Oregon-only CRC would work. (Washington, which had been a full partner in the CRC, bailed out last July when its Senate declined to match the $450 million Oregon lawmakers had earlier voted to spend on the project).

The Oregon Department of Transportation officials and their consultants could not explain how Oregon would collect tolls from Washingtonians who would make up the majority of users of the new bridge; could not explain how the metro area would deal with the diversion of an estimated 40,000 vehicles a day from I-5 to I-205; could not satisfy lawmakers' concerns about what would happen in the event of the cost-overruns that frequently plague mega-projects; and could not explain how the project would impact I-84 and the many other competing highway projects around the state. 

Last night, The Columbian published an email from Beyer to Washington State Sen. Ann Rivers (R-La Center). Beyer, who co-chaired the interim CRC oversight committee that held the Jan. 14 hearing, gave Rivers a glum assessment according the Columbian's story (emphasis added): 

"A key backer of the Columbia River Crossing in Oregon said this month he believes his state “is done” with the issue, and the proposed Interstate 5 Bridge replacement won’t make it to a vote when its Legislature convenes in February," wrote The Columbian's Eric Florip.

Oregon state Sen. Lee Beyer made the comments in an email to Washington state Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center. Rivers had earlier written Beyer and other lawmakers on the subject of tolling following a committee hearing on the CRC in Salem last week. Beyer, a Democrat from Springfield, Ore., co-chairs Oregon’s joint legislative committee on the project.

"I am doubtful that the CRC will make it to a vote in February,” Beyer wrote to Rivers. “Having worked on this issue as the committee chair for a few years now, it is my belief that Oregon is done with the bridge issue, and we can just hope we don’t have an earthquake or that accidents do not get too bad. My guess is the bridge issue is dead in our state for the next decade or two. Personally, I am shifting my attention to other transportation issues.”

UPDATED: House Speaker Tina Kotek (D-Portland), one of the CRC's biggest supporters, disagrees that the fight for the bridge is over.

"If we miss this opportunity to build the bridge, we will have an unsafe, outdated bridge for another 20 years," Kotek spokesman Jared Mason-Gere tells WW Friday. "Yes, there are challenges, but the speaker doesn't believe that with a project this important you quit just because it's hard."

Gov. John Kitzhaber also responded to Beyer's email through his spokesman, Ian Greenfield.

"The Governor continues to support an Oregon-led project, but it's clearly a legislative decision as this point," Greenfield says.

 
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