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Optimism returns for bridge project

Our Opinion

Maybe it just takes years of committee process, citizen engagement, difficult debate, considerable expense, boiled-over disagreements, breakdowns in communication and lost patience for major things to get done in the Portland area.

Maybe it takes out-of-town experts to come to the rescue and offer their analysis - pointing out good, bad and even questionable things - about what's being proposed here at home.

Or maybe it just takes hope - plus a hockey player's grinder mentality and dedication exhibited by committee chairs. Or a willingness to look at innovative solutions that can even modestly improve things.

We suspect what it takes is all of this.

We believe that came Monday. It took a renewed commitment to public accountability among regional leaders to end years of contentious debate and move ahead to build something as large and controversial as the Columbia River Crossing.

We congratulate members of the Crossing's Project Sponsors Council - and council co-chairmen Henry Hewitt and Steve Horenstein - for finally and mutually agreeing to proceed with building a 10-lane bridge with light-rail that will connect Portland and Vancouver. And they deserve credit as well for agreeing to a new Hayden Island interchange and separate local bridge to serve that island.

This decision seemingly ends years of debate about issues such as whose job it is to manage growth in Southwest Washington. The answer to that question is: Clark County and the city of Vancouver, not Metro or the city of Portland.

The bridge decision also keeps local agencies - the cities of Portland and Vancouver, Metro, Clark County and TriMet - involved, along with the federal government and the transportation departments of Oregon and Washington, in the project's planning and operation. We like that inclusiveness. It requires leaders from each of these agencies to remain publicly and jointly accountable to help achieve solutions and shared outcomes. If one jumps ship, we will all know it.

Monday's decision still leaves much to be resolved: the bridge's actual design; how the bridge will be managed; how it will be funded; what role tolling will play; and whether Vancouver and Clark County will accept light rail to their community.

Certainly, none of those are easy issues. But given what was finally agreed on Monday - a decision to proceed after years of controversy - we have hope that answers to these remaining questions will be achieved. That is, as long as leaders remain publicly accountable and visibly committed to achieve solutions and not simply leading by saying 'no.'