Jan 11 2014

Passage on the CRC?

Published by at 11:08 pm under Oregon,Oregon column

oregon
RANDY STAPILUS / Oregon

The hot political ticket this week may be Tuesday’s legislative hearing on the Columbia River Crossing bridge proposal – not that it is likely to put the issue to rest.

At this point, it seems, hardly anything is likely to.
The CRC, just as a reminder, is the label for a new and improved bridge on Interstate 5 between Portland and Vancouver, to upgrade from the often traffic-stressed road it is now. The key here is that two states necessarily are involved, Oregon and Washington.

The overall CRC story goes back a long way, but the trajectory for this part of it comes from last winter when, after Oregon’s legislature and other public officials flipped the green light for committing to their part of the deal, Washington’s legislators couldn’t (in large part because part of the Clark County delegation was opposed) gather enough to pass their counter-measure in Olympia. Without both states signing on, federal funding seemed unlikely, and there the matter seemed to stand – stuck for the foreseeable future.

A number of Oregon officials, however, and these included Governor John Kitzhaber, refused to let it go. New, less-costly plans were developed, alternative approaches were worked out to make sure Washington (or its drivers) eventually coughed up enough of the cost, and a new funding formula was worked out. But would it work? And would Oregon be too much on the hook if it didn’t?

There are not yet any totally clear answers to those questions, and the waters have gotten muddier. Murmurs from Olympia have grown a bit louder with the coming of legislators there, but some of those voices are of the “try again” variety while others ensure the approval will go no further this year.

Reports on the Oregon side have gotten murkier too. A new study out on January 10 says that the main effect of tolling on the I-5 bridge would be push drivers over to I-205, to the east Portland and east Vancouver bridge, to the point that bridge’s capacities would be severely stretched. Political people in Clackamas County, through which I-205 runs on the Oregon side, are concerned about the prospects.

Another report, this one financial, came last week from Oregon state Treasurer Ted Wheeler. He didn’t slam the door shut, but he didn’t exactly offer a resounding blast of confidence either: “If the assumptions underlying the projections made by the project consultants are valid, the tolls will be sufficient to service the project bonds. That said, we need to be sure Oregon can collect them.”

He added, “A key concern is ensuring a legally enforceable way to ensure tolls are collected from drivers registered in Washington State, who will make up an estimated two-thirds of the bridge users. The current plan calls for Oregon to lead the bridge financing and construction effort.”

There may also be this: Support for the project might be higher among elected officials, of both parties, than it is in either party’s base. Plenty of people in those quarters, left and right, have been extending criticism of a big project that, if it’s to succeed, logically ought to have a large based of support.
Arrayed against that is the massive amount of effort, money and political capital already thrown into the project.

If it seems unlikely to happen in anything like the near term, it also seems unlikely to go away soon.

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