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Washington Hopes Oregon Will Join I-5 Bridge Replacement Conversation


Washington state lawmakers are moving ahead with an effort to revive a plan to replace the aging Interstate 5 Bridge. They remain hopeful their counterparts in Oregon will join them.

The Joint Oregon-Washington Legislative Action Committee met in Olympia for its inaugural meeting Thursday. Even the name of the task force is a nod to the optimism Washington officials have that it will eventually be a bi-state panel. Currently there aren’t any lawmakers from Oregon on the committee.

“Oregon, in the past, has been very clear with us in that they need to see a firm commitment from this side of the river to renew effort to replace the I-5 bridge,” Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, said at the meeting.

Last legislative session, Washington lawmakers approved a measure creating the task force. It also called on the Washington State Department of Transportation to take stock of the inventory and work done that could still be relevant from the now-defunct Columbia River Crossing project.

During Thursday’s meeting, Washington lawmakers listened as transportation officials reminded them of the decades of planning that went into the Columbia River Crossing.

In 2013, Washington state walked away from the approximately $3 billion project after years of planning. An Oregon-led version of the project died the following year. The Columbia River Crossing would have replaced the Interstate 5 Bridge and extended light rail into Vancouver.

After Thursday’s meeting, Cleveland said Washington will formally invite Oregon to participate in future meetings. 

So far, the reaction from the Oregon side of the river has been measured.

Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek issued a statement saying she expected an invitation from Washington lawmakers in 2018.

“We will be watching their early discussions closely,” Kotek, a Democrat from Portland, said, “and welcome their leadership in restarting a bi-state discussion to replace the I-5 bridge across the Columbia River.”

Sen. Lee Beyer, D-Springfield, the chair of the Oregon Senate Transportation Committee, was more blunt.

“In Oregon, we’re just not in a position now to finance anything. We missed that window. The feds were going to give us a billion to fund the bridge and that’s gone now,” Beyer said.

Beyer, who was involved in some of the early conversations about the bridge going back to the 1990s, still has bridge fatigue.

“I know Washington wants to open the discussion all over again. They forget in 1997 there was a bi-state group [that met for years],” Beyer said.

The Interstate Bridge crosses the Columbia River.

The Interstate Bridge crosses the Columbia River.

Jay Soriano / Flickr

On Thursday, Washington lawmakers listened to a presentation from the state’s department of transportation to take a walk down memory lane.

Kris Strickler, with the Washington Department of Transportation, reminded lawmakers of the evolution and ultimate failure of the mega project.

When talking about funding sources for the project, Strickler said the finance plan that was created for the Columbia River Crossing is most likely no longer relevant.

Sen. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver, made it clear she did not want this effort to be cast as a revival of the controversial Columbia River Crossing project, but rather a look at a new project.

The northbound part of the Interstate 5 bridge turned 100 years old earlier this year.

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