Five years after pulling its support, Washington officials have convinced Oregon legislators to resume talks about replacing the aging Interstate 5 Bridge across the Columbia River.
On Friday, Washington state Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, announced that Oregon legislative leaders have agreed to appoint members to a bistate committee to discuss replacing the twin spans, which opened in 1917 and 1958. The committee was created by a bill signed by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee last year that’s intended to restart the replacement process.
Oregon officials have been leery about restarting talks after Republican lawmakers in Washington scuttled the last attempt to replace the bridge in 2013. Last year, the committee met for the first time without representatives from Oregon.
But Clark County’s legislative delegation has continued to coalesce around replacing the bridge, and local jurisdictions have signaled their support. So Oregon has returned to the table. The Joint Oregon-Washington Legislative Action Committee will meet Tuesday in Portland.
The Oregon side will include state Sens. Lee Beyer, D-Springfield; Brian Boquist, R-Dallas, and Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, and state Reps. Caddy McKeown, D-Coos Bay, and Susan McLain, D-Hillsboro. The Washington side will include Cleveland, state Sens. Ann Rivers, R-La Center; Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver; Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, and state Reps. Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver, Brandon Vick, R-Felida; Jake Fey, D-Tacoma and Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama.
“We all agree on the overdue need for a new bridge and a process that maintains the public’s trust and support,” Cleveland said in a prepared statement. “I’m not going to suggest this undertaking will be simple or easy, but we are determined to find a path that leads us to a solution.”
Cleveland said the development came from “several years of collaboration by seven Southwest Washington legislators to demonstrate a consensus that would earn the trust of their Oregon counterparts.”
“I just hope that it’s an open line of communication,” said Wilson. “I really think that’s where we build trust and faith on both sides.”
Vick said that the meeting is a “big deal” given recent history. A previous replacement died in 2013 after the Republican-led Washington Senate adjourned without approving funding for the megaproject. The crossing drew pointed opposition for its cost, inclusion of light rail and tolling plans.
Since then, congestion has become a choke point on the I-5 corridor.
U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., will likely become the next chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and has said he would pursue a $500 billion bipartisan infrastructure package that would emphasis projects of “regional and national significance.”
However, there could be sticking points with Oregon. During a gubernatorial debate last fall, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said Washington would need to accept a bridge with “public transit, particularly light rail.”
Resolutions supporting the replacement passed by the Vancouver City Council, Clark County Council and Port of Vancouver have all called for some sort of transit on the new bridge, a requirement to getting federal funding. But none directly called for light rail. Some elected leaders have voiced concern that the resolutions are vague enough to be used in support of light rail.
Republicans in Clark County’s legislative delegation have largely settled on a consensus that bus-rapid transit should be included in the new bridge. Wilson said light rail has been shown to be an expensive and inflexible transportation option and that Oregon officials have shown interest in bus-rapid transit. Vick said that Brown’s conditions “may have been a little premature” and noted that the effort is still in its infancy.
“I don’t believe, at the end of the day, that’s going to be a linchpin,” Vick said.