Kitzhaber sets March deadline to decide future of I-5 bridge


Interstate BridgeOregon Gov. John Kitzhaber set a March 9 deadline for Oregon lawmakers to re-authorize the state’s financial commitment to replace the Interstate 5 bridge connecting Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, Washington over the Columbia River.

The Oregon Legislature is in a 35-day short session that began Feb. 3.

In addition to re-authorizing $450 million to the project — better known as the Columbia River Crossing — Kitzhaber also wants the Legislature to adopt the necessary statutory changes to ensure appropriate tolling enforcement.

Moving the project forward also will require an executed intergovernmental agreement between the Washington Department of Transportation and the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) for bi-state construction.

In a letter to legislative leaders in Oregon, and to Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D), Kitzhaber said that without decisive action by the Oregon Legislature (by March 9) and the State of Washington by March 15, he will direct the Oregon Department of Transportation to close the project.

“We’ll try to roll this rock up the hill one more time,” said John Mohlis, executive secretary of the Oregon State Building and Construction Trades Council, a staunch advocate of the bridge replacement project.

Union officials lobbied Oregon lawmakers to pass HB 2800 in the 2013 legislative session. The bill funded the state’s portion of the $3.5 billion project, which calls for  improving highway interchanges, replacing the bridge and extending Portland’s light-rail to Vancouver.

HB 2800 included a provision that required the Washington Legislature to contribute an equal $450 million before any money could be authorized. Washington lawmakers failed to act on a transportation package last year that would have included the money. (Republican leaders in the Senate refused to move the transportation package to a vote.)

When that happened,  Kitzhaber and Inslee declared the Columbia River Crossing dead.

A month later, Kitzhaber put forth a scaled down “Oregon-led project.” The $2.8 billion plan relies heavily on bridge tolls, but still includes an $850 million grant from the federal government.

Over the last decade, Oregon and Washington have spent more than $180 million on planning, designing and permitting for the replacement bridge. Substantial local and federal resources, and thousands of hours of public and community participation are also invested in the project.

“For Oregon there is no alternative plan that is less complicated or less expensive,” Mohlis said.

In his letter to legislative leaders, Kitzhaber wrote, “Although this is an Oregon-led project, it certainly is not an Oregon-only project. All of our project partners —TriMet, C-Tran, the City of Vancouver, the Washington State Department of Transportation, the Federal Transit Administration and the Federal Highway Administration — are still part of the Oregon-led project, some with modified responsibilities to reflect the state of Washington’s postponed funding of the Washington interchanges.

“Importantly, our federal and local partners concur that the Oregon-led project continues to meet the safety and mobility benefits required in the federal Record of Decision, and they stand ready to move forward.”

But support has been shaky, especially in the Oregon Senate, where Senate President Peter Courtney (D-Salem), is opposed. Courtney has repeatedly told the media that Oregon lawmakers did their  job last year when they approved the $450 million. He says Washington needs to step up and do its part.

“I’ve done my duty,” Courtney told the Oregonian. “It’s time for them (Washington) to do their duty.”

Mohlis encourages union members to contact their state legislators and urge them to again support funding for the Columbia River Crossing.

“We’re another 10 years away if we don’t do this now,” Mohlis said.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Read more