Lawmakers seek solution for Columbia bridge replacement

VANCOUVER, Wash. — Two southwestern Washington lawmakers are pushing to create a bipartisan group of legislators from Washington and Oregon to determine a path forward on an I-5 bridge replacement project.

The Columbian reported that Rep. Liz Pike, R-Camas, and Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, are in the process of reaching out to Oregon lawmakers and their Democratic counterparts in Washington. By the end of the month, they hope to have about 30 lawmakers signed on to the Bistate Bridge Coalition.

After Washington lawmakers declined to vote to pay their share of the $2.9 billion Columbia River Crossing, Oregon’s governor pushed ahead to consider an Oregon-only project. The “go-it-alone strategy” failed to garner enough votes in 2014 and the project was declared dead.

“The first and most important thing is to understand where the old project went wrong and have the candid discussion to determine: Is this really a needed project?” Rivers said. “We have a sense the answer will be yes.”

Any new effort will “likely be many years away from action,” said Jared Mason-Gere, spokesman for Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, a proponent of the Oregon-led CRC. But Mason-Gere said, “clearly the problem is not going away.”

Although she wants to start from the beginning to find common ground, Pike said, she believed it’s clear that there isn’t interest in including light rail on any new bridge.

“That’s a lesson learned,” she said. “And we have to listen to the people.”

But one of the key backers of the Columbia River Crossing in Oregon said he doesn’t believe Oregon could get the votes without the light rail component.

Sen. Lee Beyer, D-Springfield, the chair of Oregon’s Senate Business and Transportation Committee, said that if the Washington lawmakers reach out to him, he would be willing to listen.

“I still think there is a need for a bridge,” he said.

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