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Funding must be fair for new I-5 bridge

My View • Columbia River Crossing project essential, but costs must be shared
by: L.E. BASKOW, Decision-making deadlines loom for the revised Columbia River Crossing project that would replace the Interstate 5 bridge between Portland and Vancouver. Vancouver Mayor-elect Tim Leavitt believes tolling of the bridge (with some exceptions) could establish appropriate financial responsibility for the project without penalizing local commuters or businesses.

Regarding Jim Redden's story 'It's crunch time for I-5 bridge plan' (Nov. 19), a well-designed Columbia River Crossing (CRC) project is crucial to our entire region's economy.

Allowing for ease of movement and flow of freight, goods and people through our metro area is in the best economic interest of all 2 million-plus residents who call this seven-county region home. As we begin 2010, I am committed to working collaboratively with our project partners on both sides of the Columbia River to ensure that such an improvement is delivered to the citizens of our region. The need for this project is fairly easy to define:

Very simply, an upgraded crossing means better safety and travel throughout our region - for trucks, commuters, travelers, bikers and pedestrians.

Very simply, less traffic congestion means lower transportation costs, which results in a more affordable gallon of milk from the grocery store.

Very simply, less traffic congestion means less environmental pollution, which results in a cleaner Pacific Northwest.

Very simply, less traffic congestion and the addition of light rail transit means a more reliable commute for all workers on both sides of the river, which results in greater productivity.

But, very simply, we must have a project that is both affordable and financed fairly - resulting in a stronger partnership for our region.

The proposed CRC project continues to be refined. Initial cost estimates were as high as $4.2 billion. Now, in response to concerns raised by much of our community and several project partners, CRC staff have proposed refinements and cost-saving alternatives, shaving some $650 million off the price tag. This is a great step forward.

Now, with a price tag of $3.6 billion, another big step is necessary - pinpointing appropriate and equitable financing to see this project come to fruition.

Our project partners must stand together, helping each other move this project forward without losing sight of its purpose. Locally, we must stand behind our state and federal representatives as they fight for transportation dollars for our region. In order to be successful, they will need our support. But at the same time, our local officials must have the same support from these representatives as we work diligently to protect our local commuters and businesses from the project's potentially significant and detrimental impacts.

Fortunately, there have lately been rumblings in Washington, DC, about possible stimulus funding for projects just like this one. Although the CRC project is not 'shovel ready,' its status as a federal interstate and its potential impact on the entire region make it increasingly identifiable as a prime candidate for a stimulus-type project.

I continue to maintain that this project is a federal interstate project and needs significant attention from the federal transit and highway administrations. Using the current estimate of $3.6 billion, the following is the breakdown that I feel is most equitable and appropriate for this project:

Federal: $2 billion.

Oregon: $500 million.

Washington: $500 million.

Local: $600 million.

The local portion could be financed by tolling, with exemptions to local commuters who must cross the bridge for work, and exemptions to local businesses conducting commerce between our two states.

This scenario establishes appropriate financial responsibility for the project and doesn't penalize our commuters or businesses, but also requires an investment for all involved that will ensure a commitment to seeing that the project is done right, and that it serves all of our needs as effectively and efficiently as possible.

If the project price is right, if we work together as regional partners, if we can fight on behalf of our communities without fighting amongst ourselves … we can get this done. I've got my work gloves ready.

Tim Leavitt is mayor-elect of Vancouver, Wash.