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My Decision on the I-5 Bridge Replacement Project
Last Monday, a special legislative committee voted to move forward with HB 2800A, the amended bill to finance the Columbia River Crossing (also known as the I-5 Bridge Replacement Project). I have long been a skeptic of the project and a critic of the process to date. In editorials, public statements, and communications with the project sponsors, I have sought to change the course of the project to make it more reflective of our long term transportation needs, and more financially responsible.
We have made significant progress in improving this project. The amended version of HB 2800A includes many of the provisions that I fought for:
- A guarantee that the project will include light rail
- Assurance that tolling will be used for demand management to reduce car traffic and improve congestion
- The completion of an investment-grade analysis of the project's financial assumptions, conducted with updated, best-practice traffic modeling before Oregon issues bonds
- Careful monitoring of I-205 for traffic impacts
- A requirement that the federal government fully fund the base project, including light rail, before Oregon can move forward
- Stronger sideboards to ensure Oregon and Washington are paying equally into the project
I have heard from many constituents who are concerned about this project, and I share many of those concerns. We need to build a 21st Century transportation system that promotes public transit, bike and pedestrian options, and locally-oriented communities. Yet with these changes to the project, I believe this bridge can be part of that 21st Century transportation system, and it is time to move forward.
Make no mistake: this project has many more hurdles to clear. Federal funding is not guaranteed, nor is support from Washington, and there are still concerns over revenue assumptions from tolling. HB 2800A makes clear that those barriers need to be overcome before Oregon contributes to the project. But at the same time, HB 2800A also commits Oregon to pay its share if those challenges are met. It is a responsible step forward that makes clear we can be a leader while still being careful. We can't change the troubling history of this project, but we can do our best to correct it and do better.
I expect some of you may agree with my decision to vote for HB 2800A as amended, and some may not. I look forward to more discussions about how we improve our transportation system. We need investments in infrastructure now, and HB 2800A takes a major step forward in doing so. But I will continue to fight this session for better investments in local streets, bicycle transportation, and public transit as well.