From The (Eugene Register-Guard)
Oregon lawmakers are about as eager to build a new bridge across the Columbia River as they are to have another go at a state-run insurance exchange. Both the Columbia River Crossing and the Cover Oregon exchange imploded during John Kitzhaber’s final full term as governor, and the two are often linked as megaprojects that left the state with nothing to show for the hundreds of millions of dollars they cost. But there’s a difference: The Columbia River Crossing, or something like it, will have to be built some day.
The fatal blow to the planned replacement for the Interstate 5 bridge over the Columbia River came from the Washington side. In 2013, the Oregon Legislature approved $450 million in bonds as the state’s share of the $2.8 million project. But the Washington Legislature failed to make a similar commitment.
There was always a mismatch in the two states’ levels of enthusiasm for the bridge. It’s a key piece of infrastructure for Oregon’s population center in Portland, carrying 100,000 vehicles a day and tying together a two-state metropolis that includes Clark County, Wash. The bridge is of less concern to lawmakers in Seattle, Washington’s political center of gravity — and even legislators from the southern part of the state were cool toward certain aspects of the proposed design, which would have accommodated a light rail link.
Now the levels of enthusiasm are reversed. On Monday the Washington Legislature approved a bill that would create a two-state commission to plan a new bridge. Evidently it has dawned on Washington lawmakers that I-5 is the primary commercial artery for the entire West Coast, with a bottleneck bridge near Portland.
Oregon lawmakers, however, still feel the sting of rejection three years ago. Gov. Kate Brown’s office said she was “encouraged” by the Washington bill. House Speaker Tina Kotek said she was “pleased.” Both added that Oregon is busy with a transportation improvement plan of its own.
Senate President Peter Courtney was less diplomatic: When he spoke to a Washington legislator about bridge options, he became so agitated that he accidentally knocked his Pope Francis bobblehead to the floor, with words to match: “We’ll take care of our own backyard,” Courtney said. “Then we’ll decide whether there’s a state north of us.”
But the project will have to be revived before too long. The northbound couplet of the existing bridge is nearly 100 years old, and the entire structure is seismically vulnerable. It is congested for at least six hours a day, and accidents are frequent. The center portion of the bridge must be raised to allow the passage of ships beneath, causing long delays.
But for now, the bridge will have to wait until the wounds are no longer as fresh as they are today.