Oregon Senate leader skeptical of I-5 bridge effort

PORTLAND, Ore. — The idea of Oregon going it alone to replace the Interstate 5 bridge over the Columbia River has run into strong skepticism from the leader of the state Senate.

Oregon can’t unilaterally put a bridge down in another state, Democratic Sen. Peter Courtney of Salem told The Oregonian newspaper. He said he wouldn’t support the idea without what he calls “a major statement” from leaders in Washington.

“I don’t think it’s good policy,” he said. “I don’t see how you can run over another state and put a bridge on their property.”

Earlier this year, Washington legislators refused to match Oregon’s $450 million pledge. Since then, project backers have tried to salvage the $3.4 billion project.

On Wednesday, Gov. John Kitzhaber, also a Democrat, wrote to Oregon legislative leaders saying the state couldn’t walk away from the work already put into the bridge project without exhausting all the possibilities.

He promised them a detailed financial and legal analysis by Sept. 15.

That approach won the support of Courtney’s counterpart in the state House, Speaker Tina Kotek, a Democrat, of Portland.

“Like the governor,” she said in a statement, “I believe the need for the bridge persists.”

Courtney said he worries that bridge legislation could damage a possible special session Kitzhaber wants to hold on taxes and public pensions.

“He’s promised me they’re not going to let this screw it up,” Courtney said. “But it scares me to death.”

Reviving the project faces tight deadlines.

Because Washington didn’t match it, Oregon’s $450 million appropriation expires Sept. 30, so new legislation would be needed to extend it.

Planners say that by mid-October, they must apply for $850 million in federal money for the light-rail portion of the project, a feature strongly opposed by some in Washington state.

And Oregon officials are pursuing a necessary bridge permit from the U.S. Coast Guard, whose officials have described Sept. 30 as their target date for a decision.

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