By Eric Florip, April 4, 2013, The Columbian
State Rep. Liz Pike, R-Camas, this week introduced a bill that would halt state funding to the Columbia River Crossing and mandate a redesign of the proposed Interstate 5 Bridge replacement.
Pike said House Bill 2025 is intended to stop a CRC design that is “totally unacceptable,” and find a different path forward. But the move comes as project supporters are making a major push to secure crucial state funding for the CRC this year.
Whether Pike’s bill gains traction remains to be seen.
“I think we’ve got to go back to the drawing board … and come up with a project that the community can embrace, and have the political courage to do it,” Pike said.
In addition to replacing the I-5 Bridge, the $3.4 billion CRC would rebuild freeway interchanges on both sides of the Columbia River and extend light rail into Vancouver.
Pike’s bill would prohibit the Washington State Department of Transportation from spending any additional money on the CRC as planned. It would also direct the department to design a new alternative that does not include light rail, builds a third bridge in addition to the I-5 and Interstate 205 spans, and provides a bridge clearance height “that accommodates all existing and future river users and accommodates those river users’ reasonable and foreseeable future needs.”
The CRC has asked the U.S. Coast Guard to permit a new I-5 bridge with 116 feet of clearance. That’s high enough for most — but not all — existing vessels to pass underneath, according to the CRC. Among those affected are three major river manufacturers that account for hundreds of jobs in Clark County. All three are
currently in mitigation talks with the CRC and state officials.
HB 2025 doesn’t mean Pike isn’t interested in pursuing anything on the congested I-5 corridor, she said. Pike said she would be open to funding a new environmental impact statement to study a new design.
The bill may face an uphill battle in the Democrat-controlled House, where leaders earlier this year introduced a broad transportation funding package that would steer $450 million toward the CRC as Washington’s state share to build the project. Oregon lawmakers conditionally approved a similar commitment last month.
Project leaders say both states need to come up with funding this year for the CRC to stay on track and begin construction in late 2014, as planned. Many Democrats, including Gov. Jay Inslee, have argued that failure to move forward on the CRC now jeopardizes its chances at a crucial federal grant. They’ve characterized the project as an economic opportunity for the region.
But any funding for the CRC would also have to get through the state Senate, controlled by a conservative majority caucus. On Wednesday, Senate leaders announced a “bare bones” transportation budget that includes no construction money for the project.