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MailTribune.com
  • Other Views: The two-state solution

    Hint: It's not in the Mideast. It's the only way to get a new Columbia River bridge
  • A new Interstate 5 bridge across the Columbia River is counted among the biggest casualties of the Oregon Legislature's 2014 session, but the fatal wound was inflicted in Olympia a year earlier. Lawmakers in Salem might have kept the project alive, but their partner in Washington state was not just absent but actively putting...
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  • A new Interstate 5 bridge across the Columbia River is counted among the biggest casualties of the Oregon Legislature's 2014 session, but the fatal wound was inflicted in Olympia a year earlier. Lawmakers in Salem might have kept the project alive, but their partner in Washington state was not just absent but actively putting up roadblocks. A new bridge will be built someday — the day when people at both ends of it unite behind a plan for design and financing.
    In 2013, the Oregon Legislature approved $450 million in state bonds for the $2.8 billion bridge. The Washington Senate, however, killed a proposal that included an equal amount. In a last-ditch effort last month, Gov. John Kitzhaber asked Oregon lawmakers to renew their commitment — he believed his state could take the lead on the project and finance construction with revenue from tolls. But the Legislature adjourned last Friday without taking action.
    Washington state's lack of cooperation has been blamed on "Klamath Falls syndrome" — that is, the Columbia River is as far from the center of political power in Seattle as Klamath Falls is from Portland. But that's only part of it. Key Washington officials were not merely indifferent, but hostile.
    House Speaker Tina Kotek, a strong backer of the bridge, said one reason the Oregon Legislature did not act was because Washington Gov. Jay Inslee failed to produce a memorandum of understanding in support of an Oregon-led project. In addition, the Washington Senate approved a bill last month barring local governments from using their power of eminent domain to acquire property for agencies in other states — legislation clearly intended to make it harder for the Oregon officials to move forward with any parts of the project on the Washington side of the river. With such signals coming from Olympia, it's little wonder that lawmakers in Salem hesitated to act.
    Washington's antipathy finds its most intense incarnation in Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver. An influential segment of his political base opposes the bridge primarily because it includes a light rail element. By combining big government and environmentalism, light rail represents everything about Portland's political culture that some Vancouver residents moved across the river to escape. Benton was nearly defeated for re-election in 2012, but his victory gave Republicans in the Senate enough votes to block the bill that included bonds for the bridge.
    Resistance in Washington might have been overcome by enthusiasm in Oregon, but doubts about the Columbia River Crossing have persisted on the south side of the river. The environmental impact statement for the bridge came in 18 months late and cost $105 million, five times the initial estimate — providing a basis for skepticism about other projected costs. Traffic volumes crossing the bridge have flattened, undercutting arguments for increasing the capacity of the corridor and weakening confidence in the ability to cover construction costs with income from tolls.
    The northbound couplet of the existing bridge will be 100 years old in three years, and no part of it was built to withstand a major earthquake. Accidents are frequent, and the bridge lacks emergency lanes. A replacement will be built — but not until both Oregon and Washington get firmly behind the project.
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