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Metro again lands in the middle of I-5 bridge fight

Council takes up a resolution Thursday afternoon on controversial project
by: Tribune File Photo Replacing the aging Interstate Bridge (looking north into Vancouver, Wash.) is the subject of a Metro resolution Thursday in Portland.

The fight over the Columbia River Crossing is expected to return to the Metro Council on Thursday.

In July 2008, a divided council approved the concept of a replacement Interstate 5 bridge with light-rail as the 'locally preferred alternative' for the project.

At the time, the council said it had a number of concerns about the project that still needed to be addressed, however, including funding sources for the estimated $3.6 billion bridge and freeway improvement work.

On June 9, the council takes up a resolution that says the concerns have been adequately addressed. Because Metro is in charge of transportation planning in the Portland area, the resolution must be adopted for the plan to proceed.

Metro's meeting begins at 2 p.m. at the agency's regional headquarters, 600 N.E. Grand Ave. The CRC resolution is the last item on the agenda.

Project opponents oppose the resolution, however. For example, the Bicycle Transportation Alliance is urging its members to argue against the project in e-mails to council members, testimony at the hearing and letters to local newspapers.

Although the project would increase access for bicyclists, the group believes it is too expensive and will encourage more driving and sprawl.

Supporters include freight-dependent businesses and labor union. They argue it will reduce congestion and create good-paying jobs.

Much has changed on the council since the original resolution was approved. President David Bragdon, who questioned many elements of the project, has been replaced by former Hillsboro Mayor Tom Hughes, who supports it. And Commissioner Robert Liberty, an outspoken critic, has been replaced by former Oregon Gov. Barbara Roberts, who appeared to support it at a council work session last week.

The project is intended to reduce congestion and increase safety in a five-mile stretch of I-5 between Oregon and Washington that includes the aging bridge between the two states. Planning on the project has been underway for more than 20 years. The current concept includes a replacement bridge with a new light-rail line between Portland and Vancouver, Wash., and improvements to several freeway interchanges in both states.

Transportation officials in both states expect the project to be funded by a mix of federal and state transportation dollars, along with tolls imposed on the bridge. Congress has been asked to prioritize the project when reauthorizing the federal Highway Trust Fund, which has expired.