Oregon governor will talk about replacing I-5 bridge, but has conditions

Gov. Kate Brown debating

Gov. Kate Brown debating

During the final debate between the Democratic and Republican party candidates for Oregon governor discussed issues with direct bearing on Clark County residents: replacing the Interstate 5 bridge, tolls and light rail.

During the debate (around the 42-minute mark), both Democratic Gov. Kate Brown and her Republican challenger state Rep. Knute Buehler said they supported replacing the I-5 bridge. But they differed on key points.

Brown said she would support moving forward on replacing the bridge if Washington could show it’s “really serious about fixing the bridge.” She said Washington would also need to accept a bridge with “public transit, particularly light rail.”

During the debate, Buehler said that he voted against a multi-billion transportation package passed last year because it fell short on large projects. He also voted against it because it included a plan to place tolls, or “value pricing,” on portions of Interstate 5 and Interstate 205 as a means of managing congestion.

“I knew also that Gov. Brown’s policy was to bake into that legislation tolling,” said Buehler.

He said that the tolling wasn’t to build new bridges but to “change peoples’ behavior, to get them out of their vehicles and not to add capacity. I’m against tolling for that purpose.”

Oregon’s plans for tolls, which require federal approval, have drawn concern that they will unfairly affect 70,000 Clark County residents who commute across the Columbia River for work.

Oregon and Washington are just now starting to warm to talking about replacing the bridge after the demise of the Columbia River Crossing. The mega project was a proposed replacement bridge that was killed in the Washington Legislature in 2013.

Opponents of the project objected to its inclusion of light rail, which they argued was costly, inefficient and not supported by Clark County residents. The possibility of light rail coming to Clark County continues to haunt discussions around replacing the bridge.

Since the demise of the Columbia River Crossing, former state Sen. Don Benton, a Vancouver Republican who had a role in killing the project, didn’t run for reelection in 2016. Last year, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill seeking to restart the process to replace the bridge.

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