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Oregon still needs new Columbia bridge

The mere mention of the phrase “Columbia River Crossing” can conjure up frightening flashbacks of the failed effort to build a new bridge to Washington. From massive consulting costs to flawed tolling estimates to scrapped bridge designs, the CRC provided one exasperating headline after another until Oregon leaders killed it in 2014, soon after Washington lawmakers refused to authorize that state’s share of the costs.

But even more exasperating is this: None of those scandals change the fact that Washington and Oregon still need a new bridge to replace the aging I-5 crossing, provide better public transit options and help relieve the congestion that serves as both a commuter and economic chokepoint in the region. And as The Oregonian/OregonLive’s Andrew Theen reported, legislators met Tuesday to once again broach the topic of replacing the bridge.

Certainly, meeting to talk about the possibility of resurrecting a replacement bridge project is a tiny step in a process that can go awry in any number of ways. The comments of legislators, as Theen reported, reflect their wariness. And assuming they continue to meet, there remain the thorny political questions of tolling and public transit that will require far more than cautious collaboration to resolve.

But time, necessity and the deadline to show progress — or repay some $140 million in federal funds — have at least helped cement a replacement bridge in leaders’ minds as a priority.

This is progress, albeit modest. But as anyone stuck in I-5 traffic can attest, forward progress at low speed beats sitting at a standstill any day of the year.