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Political twists of the CRC Bridge

March 6, 2014

Associated Oregon Industries
Oregon’s largest business advocate

The saga of the I-5 Bridge took another twist. It was one of many. In 2013 the Oregon Legislature passed a bill authorizing funding for the span provided that (amongst other things) the State of Washington commit to its share of funding by September 30, 2013. As it happened, the Evergreen State, in political turmoil, did not do so. Thus Oregon’s funding evaporated as September came and went. The bridge seemed dead.

But it wasn’t. The next step was to explore the possibility of Oregon essentially funding both states’ portion of a scaled back version, via tolls, with the federal Government kicking in about one third, tied to light rail. But because of nervousness about Oregon proceeding on such a large project sans its bigger northern sibling, resentment about Washington’s lack of willingness to participate in an interstate project, concerns about the project generally, and increasingly severe cases of bridge fatigue, the votes for an Oregon-lead crossing were not there. The project seemed dead.

But it wasn’t, quite. One thought floating around was to amend an existing bill to extend the drop dead date for Washington’s funding from long-lapsed September 30, 2013, to March 15 of this year. Sort of a second serve in tennis. Putting the ball back in Washington’s court. But expectations are that the ball would again meet an ill fate. Maybe land in foul territory, roll to the fence, mold and weather away. Or get carried off by a dog. Nothing good.

There may still be some movement – the elements of a bridge bill could be amended into a surviving bill with the proper relating clause, but there are few of those floating around at this point. Or it might just slowly exsanguinate in the closing days of the session. One never knows. Nothing in the Oregon Legislature is really, truly dead until the last gavel taps it on its head.

The reasons for the project’s travail are understandable. There were too many unavoidable obstacles. Forced limitations on height and size of approaches, changes in circumstances after permitting applications had been submitted, the loss of federal dollars if light rail were not included, the inability of Washington State to pass a transportation measure, inevitable second guessing about every aspect of design, general opposition to any major project in Oregon, and its transmutation from simply a means of crossing a river into a social statement, all made the project nearly impossible.

The thousands of jobs, increased safety and reduced congestion will have to wait. Probably a long, long time.

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Bob Clark March 6, 2014

The CRC plan as it currently exists would not materially reduce congestion. It would mostly transfer congestion on I-5 to I-205, because the hefty tolls on I-5 CRC would shift traffic to I-205.
The real solution here is to pressure our federal representatives and senators to give us our federal transportation dollars in block grants without strings attached (such as light rail requirements). It’s like giving your spouse some dollars to buy you a present, and getting back a heavy fruit cake in exchange. Light rail is a heavy unappetizing fruit cake.

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