Understanding all of Gov. John Kitzhaber's proposed state budget for the next two years cannot be accomplished overnight. At the same time, it is possible to pick out one thing that's easy to agree is necessary.
His inclusion of $450 million in bonding authority for Oregon's share of the proposed Columbia River Crossing is one of those items.
The new bridge, once it's built, will replace the current Interstate 5 bridge that joins Oregon and Washington. That bridge was basically completed way back in 1958, when the combined population of Oregon and Washington was something shy of 4.7 million. The combined population of the two states in 2010, by the way, was more than double that, 10.6 million.
Leaders of the two states have known for at least 10 years that something must be done about the aging bridge. An Oregon Department of Transportation report written at least that long ago projected 10-hour traffic jams on the bridge by 2020, just eight years from now.
Such delays would create a terrible financial burden. They would drive up the cost of shipping goods by truck. Meanwhile, the two states require much more shipping of goods than the national average: Transportation-intensive industries make up 54 percent of the states' two economies, compared to 29 percent nationally.
The proposed bridge is not cheap, not by anyone's standards. Its current price tag is set at more than $3 billion, most of which will come from the federal government. Oregon and Washington each will put up about $450 million to get the job done.
Moreover, it has generated more than its share of controversy. Some worry that building it will encourage more people to hit the highways — a kind of "if we don't build it, they won't come" attitude that is certainly misguided. Others worry there are not enough bike paths and the like. Still others are concerned about the design, which still is not final.
Kitzhaber, wisely, chose to ignore the negative chatter and include bonding for the bridge in his latest budget. It's a necessary recognition of a reality that we cannot afford to ignore.