Oregon Senate leader: No special session on I-5 bridge

PORTLAND, Ore. — A leader of the Oregon Legislature is backing away from a special session to revive the Columbia River bridge project.

Senate President Peter Courtney of Salem says public hearings should come next, and if Oregon is going to consider building an I-5 bridge without help from the state of Washington, the bill should wait until February and the start of a regular session.

“We should not predetermine the outcome of this process,” Courtney said in a statement Wednesday.

Gov. John Kitzhaber had said he was willing to call the Legislature into a special session if support is lined up. Spokesman Tim Raphael said Wednesday that Kitzhaber agrees public hearings are the next step, The Oregonian reported.

The bridge is aimed at reducing traffic jams. It would include light-rail commuter trains linking Portland and Vancouver, Wash., a provision that’s generated opposition in Washington.

Business and labor leaders are behind the project, but it’s also drawn opposition from economists who say the finances are shaky and environmentalists who say it will contribute to global warming and just move the traffic snarls into the center of Portland.

Earlier this year, the Washington Legislature balked at matching a $450 million contribution the Oregon Legislature approved. Supporters of the bridge are trying to put together an Oregon-led project.

But sentiment among Oregon lawmakers has gotten iffy.

Democratic Sen. Betsy Johnson of Scappoose, for example, is a key swing vote. She says backing it hinges on stronger statements of support by Oregon Treasurer Ted Wheeler and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.

The current plan would pay for the bridge, other than light rail, with tolling revenue and Oregon-issued bonds overseen by Wheeler.

Inslee has given his blessing to an Oregon-led plan, which would require Washington agencies to cooperate. But he faces strong opposition.

A Washington Senate majority made up mostly of Republicans sent a letter to Inslee making it clear that including bridge money would poison a transportation package Inslee hopes to get approved in an Oct. 29 special session.

Courtney’s statement also cited opposition in Washington as a reason to slow down.

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