It’s been almost three years since Oregon lawmakers walked away from a controversial plan aimed at replacing the Interstate 5 bridge between Portland and Vancouver.
The initial project, called the Columbia River Crossing, was blocked by Senate Republicans in the Washington Legislature. It ultimately fell apart to the tune of some $200 million — and no shortage of bad blood between the two states when it comes to transportation projects.
But as congestion on the 100-year-old bridge gets worse, Washington lawmakers are coming back to the table.
On Thursday, The Columbian first reported seven southwest Washington legislators introduced bills in the House and Senate that would designate the replacement of the I-5 bridge a project of "statewide significance."
By Saturday, a separate group of Republican lawmakers from the area co-hosted a transportation solutions town hall where they introduced the public to another potential legislative solution to the Columbia River Crossing problem — House Bill 1222.
The co-hosts of that town hall, Rep. Liz Pike, R-Camas, and Rep. Vicki Kraft, R-Vancouver, did not sign on to the "statewide significance" bills. Pike told The Columbian that she hadn't seen the measure, and didn't think that an I-5 Bridge replacement was the solution to the region's congestion problems and freight mobility.
Instead, Pike's bill leans toward the development of altogether new regional corridors. Four plans were put forward at the town hall in Vancouver — merely starting points, Pike and Kraft were careful to note, drawn up with volunteer resources rather than taxpayer dollars.
"They are simply red lines on a map," the legislators noted in a pamphlet. "Nothing is in stone!"
The plans presented included a new east county bridge designed by the Figg bridge group, a tunnel that would run below the I-5 corridor, and a fly-over bridge that would be built near I-5.
Clark County business owner Bill Wagner was another of the presenters who introduced a bridge plan. His featured a west-side bypass that would one day stretch all the way to Hillsboro — an ambitious project, not unlike I-205 to the east, he said.
The consequences of that ambition weren't lost on Wagner's audience. Toward the end of his presentation, one listener yelled "But what's the price tag?"
"Billions," Wagner laughed. "Billions."
But when we're looking to the future, Wagner argued, we have to be visionary.
"Our forefathers stepped up to the plate and did the 205," Wagner told OPB. "So we just hope that this generation can stand on the shoulders of our forefathers and see further. And actually do the lifting that it will take to get us into the next century."
But other town hall goers still harbored doubts about any potential investment.
Larry Patella, a retiree who describes himself as a "local rabble rouser," said he still stood firm against adding light rail to an I-5 bridge replacement — a detail which proved to be a deal-breaker in the plan for the original Columbia River Crossing.
"As long as light rail between Portland and Vancouver is part of this deal, the citizens of this city are not going to accept it," Patella said.
"And we need to be a little bit harsh on the Oregon people," he added, "because they’re getting an awful lot of money from our people. If I was a negotiator, that would be right on the top of my list."
A pamphlet about the new bill stresses the importance of bi-state partnerships, noting that "Oregon is not as motivated as SW Washington to deal with cross river solutions" and "nothing will happen until Washington and Oregon come eyeball to eyeball in a formal process."