Push I-5 bridge project forward
No one should be embarrassed for feeling tired and confused about the struggling Columbia River Crossing project. For the past several years, one of the nation's largest proposed public works projects has stumbled, without the elevated leadership that a project of this significance requires.
With the election of John Kitzhaber as governor, Oregon now not only has a voice of support for this project, but someone who will hold state, regional and local leaders - and transportation administrators - accountable for moving the crossing forward. This is a welcome change from Ted Kulongoski, who verbally supported the project, but in eight years never personally drove the project ahead as one of Oregon's top priorities.
Bringing the Columbia River Crossing to completion will not be easy. But doing just that is essential for the regional economy. Linking Oregon and Washington by an improved bridge crossing - with light rail service and tolling that helps manage traffic flows and pay the bill for the bridge - is needed to improve the flow of freight and the daily trips for tens of thousands of commuters.
Kitzhaber and Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire must accelerate this project by doing several things:
• Building acceptance of recent engineering reports that say a simpler bridge design will be cheaper and less risky to build.
• Finding the limited funding needed right now from each state to keep the project moving forward.
• Publicly supporting the extension of light rail from Portland to Vancouver - funding for which will be tested in a 2011 vote within Clark County's C-Tran district.
• Establishing benchmark deadlines with local and regional leaders in Portland and Vancouver that must be met to accelerate completion of the bridge process.
• Building unwavering support with President Obama and Congressional leaders for the Columbia River Crossing.
• Leading Oregon and Washington citizens to support the project.
Much is at stake in completing the crossing. In this economy, the estimated 20,000 construction jobs that would be created by the project are hugely significant. Yet, investing in the region's long-term safety, economic, environmental and transportation effectiveness is even more reason to move forward in a faster and more successful way.