Monday, July 08, 2013

Bistate bridge plan (with LRT) dies

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The economic future of Vancouver, Wash., is now in some doubt following the Washington State legislature's failure to approve state funds for the proposed $3.4 billion Columbia River Crossing (CRC), spanning the namesake river and linking Vancouver with Portland, Ore., by road and TriMet light rail transit.

The state legislature adjourned June 29 after declining to fund the project, supported by Gov. Jay Imslee (D) but opposed by many Republicans in the state Senate, including local Vancouver representatives, who cited concerns about cost and potential interference with river traffic, branding the LRT component as the particular cause for both problems.

Local press said Lisa Nisenfeld, president of the Columbia River Economic Development Council, believes the project's demise will put an economic burden on Vancouver, as auto congestion rises and alternatives are not made available. Prospective employers often inquired about the CRC, she said.

But Port of Vancouver Executive Director Todd Coleman believes the city and region will adjust. "I think this community will coalesce around economic development," he said. "I think you will see people come up with new ideas."

CRC was to establish a new bridge route, part of Interstate 5 to be used by Portland Tri-Met's MAX light rail in an effort to establish the second U.S. bistate LRT operation. Washington state was responsible for $450 million of the total cost of the bridge.

Objections to LRT by Washington representatives, which played well to many constituents, ran up against the stance held by Oregon counterparts, who asserted that Oregon's insistence on LRT, led by Gov. John Kitzhaber, was non-negotiable. "No light rail. No project. No kidding," Tim Raphael, a spokesman for Kitzhaber, said in a statement last April.

Last March then-Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood also warned Washington state lawmakers that a lack of funding commitments from either state would jeopardize the $1.2 billion in federal funds designated for the project.