Billionaire Enviro Could Revive the Columbia River Crossing Project

A billionaire California environmentalist who is on track to spend more than $50 million of his fortune to help make climate change a major issue in the Nov. 4 elections could inadvertently trigger the re-start of the Columbia River Crossing project, a deal Oregon enviros have widely panned.

Hedge fund billionaire Thomas Steyer is targeting climate change deniers across the country, including in legislative races. In Oregon, his political action committee, Nextgen Climate Action, has given $70,000 to Oregon League of Conservation Voters

The New York Times reports that Steyer has bigger goals.

If Steyer is successful up north, he could help give Democrats enough votes in the Washington legislature to bring back the $3.2 billion Columbia River Crossing, a project that Oregon's leading environmental groups, including the Oregon League of Conservation Voters and 1000 Friends of Oregon, worked to kill last year. 

The CRC would deliver a new freeway and light rail connection between Portland and Vancouver, Wash., and replace troublesome I-5 interchanges in both cities.

The bi-state partnership that pursued the CRC for years fell apart in 2013 when the Washington Senate refused to approve spending $450 million, an appropriation that would have matched Oregon's commitment. The Washington Senate was in Republican control after two Democrats switched allegiances to the GOP.

Gov. John Kitzhaber subsequently tried to keep the project alive as an Oregon-only project but without Washington's money and experience, Oregon lawmakers rejected that effort in the short 2014 session. 

Kitzhaber referred wistfully to the project at an Oct. 14 City Club debate with his Republican opponent, state Rep. Dennis Richardson, saying, "a handful of tea party senators in Washington tanked the CRC."

Kitzhaber has hinted the project could come back if Washington state supported the project.