Washington Congresswoman Says Columbia River Crossing Backers Lied About Federal Deadlines

Jaime Herrera Beutler says the federal government has already put the project on ice

Backers of the Columbia River Crossing have been repeating one mantra: The megaproject must be ready to go by Sept. 30 or the federal government will give hundreds of millions in funding.

But as the deadline nears—and it's the same day that Kitzhaber will convene a special session for the Oregon Legislature—Kitzhaber has told several news outlets that squeezing an Oregon-only CRC through that day is "a long shot."

Kizthaber has also back-pedalled on the deadline, telling OPB host Dave Miller today that he spoke to the federal government about whether there could be more time for the $2.8 billion CRC.

"I asked them what happened if we got our ducks in order on Sept. 30 or Oct. 1, and they said we'll talk about it when we get there," Kitzhaber said during Think Out Loud. "They didn't say yes, they didn't say no."

And U.S. Rep Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.), who represents Southwest Washington says there's a reason Kitzhaber can back off his prior claimes: There never was a deadline for federal funding.

In a letter (PDF) written yesterday, Herrera Beutler blasts a number claims made by project sponsors. She says the project officials lied to local leaders "in order to expedite the approval of this plan." (WW reported on the CRC's pattern of not disclosing problems this week).

Herrera Beutler, a member of the House Transportation Committee, says that the New Starts program—the Federal Transit Administration grant from which the CRC hoped to draw $850 million for light  rail—puts no deadlines on applications.

"Additionally, my office has been told that the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) that administers the grant has effectively put the CRC on hold," she writes. 

Herrera Beutler's comments came in a letter to the C-Tran Board of Directors, who are set to debate tonight how Clark County's transit agency would pay for the operations and maintenance of a MAX line to Vancouver.

The Congresswoman also says several ways the agency plans to cover the $2.5 million annually may actually jeopardize the CRC's chances of federal funding. 

The biggest issue may be that C-Tran's plan to cut bus lines between Vancouver and Portland to cover light rail violates federal law. Herrera Beutler writes:

U.S. Code, Title 40, Sec. 5309(d)(2)(C) states that the Secretary may approve a grant only if the project is "supported by an acceptable degree of local financial commitment (including evidence of stable and dependable financing sources) to construct, maintain, and operate the system or extension, and maintain and operate the entire public transportation system without requiring a reduction in existing public transportation services or level of service to operate the proposed project. FTA's final Guidance reaffirms that rule by using nearly identical language.

“I assure you that there is ample time to bring any financing plan before the voters without harming the chances of federal funding for this project,” Herrera Beutler finishes. 

WW intern Ben Ricker contributed to this report.