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I-5 bridge doesn't need more hurdles

Our Opinion

Four elected officials from Portland and Vancouver, Wash., are pushing for additional evaluation of the proposed $3.2 billion Columbia River Crossing, while still claiming they support moving this vital project forward.

But in reality, their call for more investigation is just as likely to bog down efforts to improve the congested crossing by layering on additional studies, debate and mixed political agendas.

The eventual result, we fear, will be a still congested, unsafe bridge that creates environmental and economic harm for the Portland area.

Metro President David Bragdon, Portland Mayor Sam Adams, Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt and Clark County Commission Chair Steve Stuart last week penned a letter to the governors of Oregon and Washington suggesting that the proposed Crossing project - which includes a new Interstate 5 bridge connecting Portland and Vancouver - must clear another set of hurdles before it can proceed.

On first read, we would support what Adams and his partners suggest: establishing performance objectives for the crossing project; developing a management plan for future operations of the project; establishing a responsible financial plan; and doing no harm to the Hayden Island Community.

Embedded in the letter, however, is a troublesome request for local governments to be paid to hire and supervise additional experts to restudy years of the project's planning, including land-use, transportation, tolling and economic impacts far afield of the actual crossing.

That's troubling for a number of reasons. An additional set of studies is likely to take months to complete, squeezing a tight schedule for federal funding. This is particularly true when it comes to staying in step with approval and funding timelines of several agencies, such as the Federal Transit Administration.

More expert opinions?

Bragdon, Adams, Leavitt and Stuart aren't mere bystanders in evaluating the crossing project. They serve on the Project Sponsors Council, which was appointed by Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski and Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire, to comment on remaining issues surrounding the crossing. But let's be honest, each has unique and differing opinions and motivations about some aspects of the Crossing.

Many of the issues raised in the letter are matters that already have been studied thoroughly, which makes us wonder if the letter writers simply disagree with the expert conclusions that have been reached to date and want to hire other experts to produce findings they will accept.

Still other concerns addressed in the letter - such as financing - will naturally be resolved as the Crossing moves from the design phase toward implementation. Those issues don't require a separate process from the one already in motion.

Nor does the Columbia River Crossing benefit from the injection of politics that's now occurring. We sense that many regional officeholders - particularly candidates for Metro president - are simply using the Crossing issue to position themselves politically. Meanwhile, other leaders are raising objections that are more symbolic than practical.

We fully realize that the region doesn't have clear consensus yet on the scope of the Columbia River Crossing. However, such consensus won't be reached merely by asking more and more questions and seeking more study when you don't like the results of studies already completed. At some point, local leaders must individually - led, we think, by the two governors of Oregon and Washington - take a clear stance on the project.

If some officials don't support the crossing that's their right, but they shouldn't hide their opposition behind a deluge of new studies and additional requirements.