Oregon to Washington State: No LRT, no bridge

Written by Douglas John Bowen

Restating Oregon's official position even as the state commits to brinksmanship, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber's office continues to insist the proposed $3.4 billion bistate Columbia River Crossing will die if Washington state tries to remove the light rail transit portion from the bridge project, as several Washington state elected officials have attempted.

“Governor Kitzhaber has been clear from the start: No light rail. No project. No kidding,” Tim Raphael, a spokesman for Kitzhaber, said in a statement, according to regional media.

The Interstate 5 bridge between Vancouver, Wash., and Portland has included LRT right-of-way, 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 is responsible for $450 million of the total cost of the bridge, but those funds have been held up as the state argues over the LRT portion of the project, so far ignoring Oregon’s insistence that LRT is non-negotiable.

The Washington Legislature may need to go into special session to address the issue, if it decides to do so. The legislature is still considering an $8.4 billion transportation tax package, which would include funds for the Columbia River Crossing.

Opponents of the Columbia River Crossing suggest LRT right-of-way would be better used for automotive purposes. As well, many claim LRT restricts the height of the proposed bridge, making it too low for companies to move cargo and equipment on the river.

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