Last night marked a giant leap forward for proponents of the $3.5 billion Columbia River Crossing project, which will include a new Interstate 5 bridge between Portland and Vancouver, an extension of light rail to Vancouver, a fix for five major freeway interchanges.
Lawmakers on a special CRC committee voted 14-2 to move House Bill 2800 to the floor of both chambers for votes. The bill commits $450 million to the CRC, if certain conditions are met: Washington must contribute the same amount; federal funds must materialize and Oregon State Treasurer Ted Wheeler must approve new tolling projections that underpin the largest single source of funds for the project—an estimated $1.3 billion in revenue from tolling the I-5 bridge.
In July 2011, Wheeler produced an earlier report that said project tolling projections were wildly inaccurate—as much as $600 million too high.
Last night's vote came very quickly relative to the 2013 session and on only the second meeting of the special panel. But as committee member Sen. Rod Monroe (D-Portland) noted, it came 22 years after his first involvement with efforts to find a solution to chronic congestion at the crossing.
Lawmakers voted without seeing new tolling projections—seemingly a risk—and also sent the bill directly for floor votes, rather than to the budget-writing Joint Ways and Means Committee, where most big-ticket legislation goes for further analysis.
Today, we asked the presiding officers in both chambers—House Speaker Tina Kotek (D-Portland) and Senate President Peter Courtney (D-Salem) about the absence of new tolling information and the decision not to send the bill to Ways and Means.
Here's what they said:
Courtney provided the following responses to WW's questions.