Columbia River Crossing: Dead in the water

After eight years and over $170 million spent on engineering and planning, the Columbia River Crossing project is dead, along with its promise of four to five years of employment for thousands of construction workers.

The plan was to have replaced the I-5 bridge over the Columbia River and upgraded six nearby highway interchanges, at a cost of $3.4 billion. But it fell victim to Washington legislative politics.

I honestly have no idea when it’s going to get going again.” — John Mohlis, Oregon Building Trades Council

Oregon lawmakers voted in March to approve $450 million in bonds for the project, which was to be matched by Washington state and a much bigger contribution from the federal government. The project had strong backing from Washington Democrats in the House and Senate and from Washington’s Democratic governor Jay Inslee. But last December, two Senate Democrats defected and voted to hand over leadership of the Washington Senate to the Republican minority.

Republicans opposed the bridge in part because it would have included light rail. Including light rail made federal transit money available to the project, which was a necessary part of its financing. But Clark County residents have voted several times to oppose light rail.

Oregon’s funding commitment to the project passed as a stand-alone bill, but in Washington, the bridge replacement was one of a series of large projects, including work on state Highway 167, the North Spokane Corridor, and Interstate 90 over Snoqualmie Pass. The total bill for the transportation package was estimated to be $10 billion, and to help pay for it, the bill included a 10.5-cent increase in the state gas tax.

Both labor and business groups lobbied for the bill’s passage, and it passed in the Washington House 51-41 on a second attempt. But Washington Senate leaders declined to bring the bill to a vote, both in the regular legislative session that ended April 28 and in two subsequent special sessions called by the governor. At the last-minute, Senate Democrats tried to use a procedural maneuver to get a floor vote on the package, but were unable to get the votes needed.

When Washington’s second special legislative session adjourned without passing the bill, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber declared the project dead in a press statement.

“Without the funds from Washington and adherence to the project budget and schedule, neither state can incur the further costs of delay,” Kitzhaber said. “Consequently, project managers have begun to close down the project.”

“It’s really disappointing, after all the hard work and effort that so many people put into it, that a small minority derailed the project,” said John Mohlis, executive secretary of the Oregon State Building and Construction Trades Council. “I honestly have no idea when it’s going to get going again. We’re now years and years away from being able to move forward, and it’s a real disservice to the entire West Coast economy.”

Kitzhaber said he asked the Oregon Department of Transportation to review all of the work on the Oregon side of the project to determine if any stand-alone investments could be made to improve safety and reduce congestion on a smaller scale.

2 Comments on Columbia River Crossing: Dead in the water

  1. While there is a lot about the CRC that looks bad, but light rail isn’t part of it. Why, I wonder, do Clark County residents not want to get light rail? There is certainly substantial commuting from there to Portland.

    Does anyone know what the complaint is?

    • Yes i believe I do know. It’s the fear of Tri-Met control and added excessive taxes. The CRC is dead for now because of TM’s insisting on Light-Rail. Light Rail is not required to make the bridge. Light Rail taxes are not wanted in Clark county. Ask the voters.

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