Columbia River Crossing showing signs of life

The Columbia River Crossing, once thought to be dead, is showing signs of life.

Opponents of the CRC claimed victory this summer when the Washington Senate adjourned without authorizing that state’s portion of the money to pay for construction. The original plan was to replace the Interstate 5 lift-span bridges that connect Portland and Vancouver over the Columbia River with a single bridge that included light rail and bike lanes. Highway interchanges to the bridge in both states also were to be improved.

Oregon and Washington each had to commit $450 million to the project’s $3.6 billion overall cost in order for the federal government to pick up the $850 million price tag for light rail. The remainder of the financing was to come from bridge tolls.

Despite the setback in Washington, proponents weren’t ready to fold the tent. Citing nearly 10 years of planning at a cost of more than $170 million, they began talking about Oregon “going it alone.” State officials are still looking into whether it is financially viable for an “Oregon only” project. The scaled down version has a price tag of $2.7 billion.

Meanwhile, the Federal Highway Administration and Federal Transit Administration on Sept. 26 confirmed that an “Oregon-only” project is consistent with prior environmental analysis and did not require additional environmental analysis or a supplemental environmental impact statement.

That same day, the C-TRAN board of directors approved a plan to operate light rail in Vancouver. The 5-4 vote allows C-TRAN to move forward on a set of draft agreements with TriMet to finance a light rail extension to Clark College.

Then, on Sept. 27, the United States Coast Guard granted a general bridge permit to construct a new bridge at a height of 116 feet.

The Coast Guard has statutory authority to approve the location and clearances for all bridges over navigable waterways.

“This is a major step forward that recognizes the importance of this project and its economic benefits to the state, region, and nation,” said Matt Garrett, director of the Oregon Department of Transportation. “Getting the go-ahead from the Coast Guard meets a key viability requirement and makes the project’s path forward clearer.”

The Columbia River Crossing has been endorsed by all of organized labor, governors of both states, U.S. senators from both states, the mayors of Portland and Vancouver, TriMet and C-Tran, among others.

If the Oregon only plan goes forward, construction of the first phase could begin in 2014, and would include making interchange and roadway improvements in Oregon, and building the river crossing, the SR 14 interchange, and light rail to Vancouver. The projected completion date is 2022.

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