SALEM — Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber practically declared it dead more than a month ago, but the push to extend Portland's light rail into Washington state and replace several miles of Interstate 5 isn't lifeless.
The powerful forces in Oregon that want to see the project go forward — unions, business groups, the governor, the state House speaker — refuse to give up on it. But their last-ditch effort to build the Columbia River Crossing project without dollars from Washington state might be a tough sell. Some of the Oregon lawmakers who supported it earlier this year are taking heat back home, and it's not even clear whether it's legally or financially possible.
Until this summer, project backers were pushing a $3.4 billion freeway and light-rail project that would have replaced two aging bridges carrying Interstate 5 across the Columbia River, widened freeways on both sides and extended Portland's light-rail to Clark College in Vancouver, Wash.
Oregon lawmakers this year voted to commit $450 million to the project on the condition that Washington did the same, and the rest of the funding was to come from tolls and the federal government. The Washington House approved a transportation package this summer that included money for their state's $450 million share, but the Senate never took a vote before adjourning in June.
Kitzhaber said at the time that "neither state can incur the further costs of delay" and that project managers would begin closing down their offices, though he pledged to continue looking into options Oregon could pursue on its own.
Project backers now are pitching a scaled-back version that could be funded without a contribution from Washington.
It's essentially the same as the earlier proposal, but the freeway improvements would stop at State Route 14 in Vancouver. Light rail still would continue to Clark College, paid for by the Federal Transit Administration.
The total cost would be $2.75 billion, project backers say. The price includes $130 million for the interchange with SR 14 in Washington. It doesn't include $86 million Oregon has agreed to pay three upriver manufacturers that ship products that are too big to fit beneath the proposed bridge.
Kitzhaber has asked the Oregon departments of Transportation and Justice to evaluate issues surrounding the latest proposal and report back by Sept. 15.
The Oregon House backed funding for the initial proposal in a 45-11 vote in February, and the Senate followed with an 18-11 vote. But the decisions came only after lawmakers inserted a caveat saying Oregon can spend money only if Washington does.