Senate president questions Oregon-only bridge plan

Associated Press

PORTLAND, Ore. — Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney says he’s not interested in building a new bridge over the Columbia River without the support of Washington state.

The Salem Democrat supported the Columbia River Crossing in a March legislative vote, but he said he had only agreed to build half a bridge.

“I don’t want to be the guy stopping it,” Courtney told The Oregonian (http://bit.ly/14mCC2Y). “I’m just saying this is no way to build a bridge to another state. The kind of ill will that you could create would be with you for a long, long, long time.”

The original plan called for each state to contribute $450 million toward a $3.5 billion light-rail and freeway bridge linking Portland and Vancouver, Wash. But the project appeared dead when the Washington Senate did not approve that state’s share of the funding.

Supporters in Oregon are trying to resurrect the plan by relying only on state money, the federal government and tolls. The plan would require Oregon lawmakers to lift a condition that says Oregon can only spend money on the bridge if Washington does.

The plan is gaining momentum in some quarters, as Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt said Wednesday he would hold a city council workshop to discuss paying annual maintenance and operating costs for light rail. Revenue sources could include a surcharge on tickets and a fee for park-and-ride lots.

Told of Courtney’s comments, Tim Raphael, Gov. John Kitzhaber’s spokesman, said the bridge proposal remains a bistate project, with Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s support still crucial for success. Kitzhaber supports taking the next steps to vet a phased approach to replacing the bridge, Raphael said.

“The governor is under no illusions about the weight of this lift,” Raphael said in an emailed statement.

“Perhaps we do not have the time, or the will, or a feasible pathway to get this project done. But the fact is the need remains,” the statement said. “The governor does not believe we can afford to walk away from this opportunity — from the jobs associated with a multi-billion dollar investment in our region, from the safety improvements to our transportation system, from the investment in our future economic growth — without exhausting all of our options.”

Oregon Treasurer Ted Wheeler also is casting doubt on the go-it-alone proposal, saying it would increase financial risks for Oregon taxpayers.

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