Inslee signs bill to ease I-5 congestion over Columbia River

By Lauren Dake / The Columbian

OLYMPIA — With a swipe of his pen, Gov. Jay Inslee made it official on Wednesday: Southwest Washington legislators will renew conversations around how to ease traffic on the congested Interstate 5 Bridge.

With the implosion of the Columbia River Crossing project still fresh in legislators’ minds, Senate Bill 5806 treads lightly.

As Inslee stated while signing the measure into law, it launches a process to start planning how to replace the 100-year-old bridge. The governor said he’s hopeful it will be a process that includes both Washington and Oregon.

“I believe it’s important for both states to come together to figure out the next bridge across the river,” Inslee said.

While Oregon lawmakers’ reaction to the bill has been tepid, the majority of the Southwest Washington delegation was pleased they were finally able to find common ground on one of the region’s most divisive issues.

The measure calls on the Washington State Department of Transportation to take an inventory of what’s left of the Columbia River Crossing project, to see if anything is salvageable.

It doesn’t name a project and lawmakers tried to avoid even uttering “Columbia River Crossing” while working on the bill.

The measure also calls for creating a legislative action committee with Oregon and creates a regional bridge authority to consider the possibility of third or fourth crossings. It avoids any specific language about mass transit, averting discussions about light rail, which was a major reason behind why the original project proposal died.

“This is a first step but it’s a crucial first step,” said Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, a key champion of the measure. “The last effort to replace the bridge took over 10 years of planning, investments and work. That work was scuttled at the 11th hour by a group opposed to the bridge.”

The strategy this time, Cleveland said, is to start from a point of trust and consensus. Several lawmakers who were opposed to the Columbia River Crossing project signed on to this Senate bill.

“What’s important now is for the community to weigh in. Not next year or in 10 years, but this year, as we listen, gather information and data, and work to design the process,” Cleveland said.

The measure carved out $350,000 for the necessary work to be done and the state’s department of transportation is scheduled to give a report to the Legislature by Dec. 1.

The majority of legislators who consider themselves part of the Southwest Washington delegation supported the bill, including Sens. Ann Rivers, R-Vancouver, Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver and Reps. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, Brandon Vick, R-Felida, Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver and Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver.

Republican Reps. Vicki Kraft and Liz Pike are among those who support a third bridge over the Columbia River as a priority over Interstate 5, and did not sign on to the bill.

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