Political Beat

Did Benton’s bill seal the CRC’s fate in Salem?

When the Washington state Senate passed Sen. Don Benton’s bill blocking the transfer of seized property to an agency of another state — a clear shot at the Columbia River Crossing — supporters likely knew it may not go anywhere in the House.

It may not need to.

Senate Bill 6125 appears to have achieved the desired effect on at least one Oregon lawmaker.

Oregon Sen. Bruce Starr, R-Hillsboro, directly cited Benton’s bill in a statement this week announcing that he won’t support the proposed Interstate 5 Bridge replacement if it comes to a vote in Salem this year.

“Based on the Washington legislature’s demonstrated unwillingness to engage in a bi-state process, as seen by the Washington Senate’s recent passage of Senate Bill 6125, it is clear that the co-operation we need to build this bridge is not going to materialize,” Starr said.

Benton, a Vancouver Republican, introduced the bill in response to a controversial contract inked by C-Tran and TriMet last year. The deal spells out how the agencies would operate light rail in Vancouver if the CRC materializes. One clause allows C-Tran’s eminent domain authority to be used for TriMet to acquire property along the light rail line — action that would be blocked by SB 6125.

Oregon legislators are considering whether to recommit to the $2.9 billion CRC after Washington pulled out last year. Meanwhile, Washington lawmakers have continued to lobby hard on both sides of the debate. And Benton’s bill appears to have sent an effective message.

Starr was a key supporter of the CRC last year. His announcement makes an already tough road in the Oregon Senate even tougher — if not impossible — for the CRC. Senate President Peter Courtney has already said he opposes the Oregon-led version of the project. It appears increasingly likely that the beleaguered project may die for good this year.

Starr, like Courtney, says he’ll only support the CRC if Washington comes back to the table with funding.

“The relationship between the Oregon and Washington legislatures is of vital importance, not just in the case of the new bridge, but many others,” Starr said. “As president of the National Conference of State Legislatures, I believe it is of the highest importance for legislatures to work together with respect and cooperation toward shared goals.”

Eric Florip

I'm the environment/transportation reporter for The Columbian newspaper in Vancouver, Wash. Contact me at eric.florip@columbian.com or 360-735-4541.

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