In Monday’s paper, Columbian reporter Eric Florip will report on the political division over the Columbia River Crossing. His story is part of a series exploring how today’s battle over politics and growth will shape Clark County’s future.
When it comes to the CRC, that political division extends all the way to the federal level.
On one side of the debate sits longtime Washington Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, a strong CRC supporter who chairs the Senate’s subcommittee that makes federal spending decisions. Sitting on the House’s equivalent to that committee is U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas and CRC critic, who was first elected to Congress in 2010.
Murray: ‘counting on’ support
When advocating for the project, Murray points out that competition for federal transportation dollars is fierce, and our community should stop sabotaging its chances for securing grant money.
Federal gas tax revenue is declining as people shift to fuel-efficient vehicles, and much of the nation’s transportation infrastructure is aging, Murray said. That leaves many communities across the U.S. all fighting for a shrinking pot of federal transportation money.
“There are so many communities who are going to be ahead of us” if our region fails to rally around the CRC project as it’s currently designed, Murray said during a recent interview with The Columbian. Losing political momentum at such a crucial time for the project will set the Interstate 5 Bridge replacement back as much as 20 years, she added.
After spending the past two decades planning the project, only to see it derailed, “people are not going to get back in there and do this again,” Murray said, adding: How would they be assured that another run at the project wouldn’t be stymied, too?
Murray said she is “counting on” the Washington Legislature to pass at least a portion of its share of the project this session, which is scheduled to end April 28.
The Interstate 5 Bridge could fall down in a major earthquake, and if the pieces of the CRC project fail to fall into place, “that is putting our region at real risk to have a horrible safety accident,” Murray said. “You can’t wait for the bridge to fall down and then say you are going to build it. Why would you risk people’s lives?”
Herrera Beutler: ‘Take a little bit longer’
At a time when supporters of the CRC are counting on continued momentum to keep the project going, many Republican lawmakers are asking the community to take a pause, reconsider the project one last time, and even tweak its design. They say slowing down and thinking things over now won’t delay the bridge project a generation.
Changing the project won’t jeopardize the region’s ability to replace the Interstate 5 Bridge, Herrera Beutler said in an a recent interview with The Columbian.
“It’s not true to say the money can’t come if we take a little bit longer,” Herrera Beutler said. “It’s simply not true.”
Herrera Beutler said that according to the project’s own documents, the CRC will only save one minute of commute time for drivers heading southbound in morning rush hour.
“What are we getting for this?” she asked. “In what area of government services do we allow for that kind of mediocrity?”
Commuters would save an estimated eight minutes on the commute back into Vancouver in the evening.
Herrera Beutler said light rail can work in high-density cities such as New York, but it’s not right for Vancouver.
“Clark County isn’t downtown Portland,” Herrera Beutler said. “We look different on purpose. We’re proud of our identity.”
Herrera Beutler acknowledge that the Interstate 5 Bridge does pose a safety risk to the public. She said she’ll continue to work to replace it with a design that better fits Clark County’s needs.
“Our need for a bridge doesn’t go away if this bridge design gets scrapped,” Herrera Beutler said. “The responsibility I have to our region as a federal representative is to make sure we have an I-5 bridge that’s safe. That’s probably the first thing on everybody’s mind.”