Monday, March 10, 2014

Oregon scuttles CRC bridge plans

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Oregon's Department of Transportation announced Friday, March 7, 2014, that it will abandon planning efforts for the controversial Columbia River Crossing project, citing the Oregon state legislature decision not to fund the infrastructure, which was to include a new Interstate 5 bridge and (from Oregon's perspective) light rail transit services on the bridge extending into Vancouver, Wash.

ODOT said it "will begin the process of orderly archival and closeout." Spending will be reduced immediately, the agency said in a statement, with the project being officially terminated by May. ODOT said it would save the research, environmental studies, and engineering work for possible future use.

Paradoxically, last week President Obama's proposed fiscal year 2015 budget request included $65 million for the CRC project.

But the momentum against the project has been growing for some time, with even some pro-rail voices expressing reluctance to proceed. Last year, heeding anti-rail voices in Vancouver, Wash., Washington State legislators turned aside efforts to provide state funding for the bistate bridge. Since then, Oregon has pondered whether to go it alone on the state level, relying on its own funding in addition to expected federal funding support.

"This project would have replaced an aging bridge that is vulnerable to a seismic event; it would have improved transit options for people living in the region; and it would have helped the region's economy grow," said Rachel Wray, a spokeswoman for Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber. "In short, the governor is disappointed."

The two existing lift bridges slated for replacement by the CRD project cannot handle existing traffic demand, and are deemed vulnerable to any major earthquake.