Oregon lawmakers appear ready to come back to the table regarding the replacement of the Interstate 5 bridge as the state now has its eight members appointed to an Oregon-Washington committee tasked with bringing a project to fruition.
Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek announced the appointment of its members Aug. 14, according to a media release from Washington state Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver. The legislators — half Democrats, half Republicans and with four from each legislative chamber — mirror Washington’s own eight, the majority of which represent Clark County with half having North County constituencies.
Cleveland, author of the 2017 piece of legislation, Substitute Senate Bill 5806, that created the committee, said bridge replacement had been her “biggest single priority” since taking her seat in the Washington Legislature.
“Whether you’re a Washington resident or an Oregon resident, whether you live locally to the bridge or pass through to go farther north or south, this is great news,” Cleveland said in the release, which also stated that Oregon had allocated $5 million toward reopening a project office for the bridge’s replacement. Washington has already put $17.5 million to reopen a project office, with another $17.5 million going toward planning and pre-design work.
“Oregon’s cash investment, particularly after having funded a major transportation revenue package in 2018, signals a solid commitment to continued work together to build the new I-5 bridge both our states need so desperately,” Cleveland said in the statement.
That $5 million increased to $9 million as the Oregon Transportation Commission voted days later to increase the money behind the project. OTC Vice Chairman Robert Van Brocklin suggested the increase in funds during the commission’s Aug. 16 meeting in Ashland.
“I want to make sure that we are sending a message of interest moving forward on this,” Van Brocklin said, a message not just to Washington lawmakers but to Oregon residents who experience the “major piece of congestion” the bridge has become.
North County state senators on the bi-state committee are also optimistic about Oregon’s move to participate. Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, said in an email she felt the current bi-state approach had “much more promise” than past efforts. She noted her involvement with the past discussion of the Columbia River Crossing, which essentially died in the Washington Senate in 2013 over disputes linked to the presence of light rail infrastructure on a replacement, among other issues.
“The need for a new bridge across the Columbia certainly hasn’t gone away on our side of the river, and I’m sure the same is true for Oregonians,” Rivers said in her email. “This is an opportunity to sit down, put the past in perspective, then take a new look at what might be possible.”
Sen. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver, said in an email she is encouraged by the development. She noted that though she’s heard from many of her constituents that bridge replacement was a high priority, they also had strong opinions on what transit should look like on the bridge, as well as how the project would be funded. She said those issues would be high on her list during coming discussions on the committee.
“There is much to talk about, in a careful, deliberate and transparent way, and it would be good to make some progress before the Washington members of the committee get tied up by the legislative session in January,” Wilson said in the email.
Kotek said the bi-state committee could meet as early as September, according to an Oregonian article cited in Cleveland’s release.