A joint legislative committee this evening voted 14 to 2 to send a bill approving moving forward on the $3.5 billion Columbia River Crossing project to the House and Senate floors for a vote.

The legislation, House Bill 2800, has moved at lightning speed this session after more than 20 years of study and in the past five years, the expenditure of $165 million on planning and engineering. The bill would appropriate $450 million, Oregon's downpayment on the project, if Washington state commits to the same amount and certain other conditions are satisfied.

To bring matters to a conclusion, legislative leaders named what they called the Interstate 5 Replacement Project Committee and stocked it with four rookie lawmakers and several others new to the issue.

After two lengthy public hearings last Monday and tonight (and a work session tonight), the committee referred the bill directly for floor votes. Normally, major legislation moves from one chamber to the next, with hearings and work sessions in both chambers and then, especially if the bill has a fiscal impact or direct cost, to the budget-writing Joint Ways and Means Committee for further consideration.

The fast-track process established by Senate Pres. Peter Courtney (D-Salem) and House Speaker Tina Kotek (D-Portland) skipped those normal steps. Kotek says she now expects floor votes as soon as the necessary paperwork is complete.