VANCOUVER, Ore. (KOIN) — Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee sat side-by-side at a table in Vancouver and had one simple message about the I-5 bridge connecting the states over the Columbia River.
That message: There are no other options than replacing the bridge. The current bridge poses seismic risks, according to officials, and is also a source of major congestion.
Brown and Inslee signed an agreement Monday to work together to restart planning. The governors committed $44 million for an office and planning to get the bridge replacement moving.
That money will be used to work on ideas, designs, transit options and procuring federal money.
One big roadblock in the past was a push to add light rail on a new bridge. Inslee was in favor but now bus rapid transit is on the table.
“We’ll have a very vigorous discussion with our constituents and see what their thoughts are,” Inslee said.
Tolling is highly likely as part of the plan.
“Each time we go back to Washington, DC, we ask that question and each answer is: there are no projects not being tolled. Every single project has a toll,” Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnery-Ogle said. “We’re not special.”
Both governors know there is a lot of skepticism after a failed effort several years ago but both said there are big changes since then.
Oregon committed millions of dollars to a replacement — the Columbia River Crossing — but Washington lawmakers failed to fund their part. Inslee said the support is now there and that’s why Brown is willing to try again.
“They have certainly come to the table with significant resources, significant skin in the game,” Brown said. “I have a serious commitment from my partner in Washington. They have new legislative leadership.”
Brown now needs to get Oregon legislators on board with the plan.
About 138,000 vehicles each day go over the Interstate Bridge and the tremendous growth in Clark County means more vehicles will use it.
“The joint effort for a new I-5 bridge is a real critical step forward as we invest in the growth of our region,” Brown said.
The Columbia River Crossing started in 2004 as a bi-state megaproject to replace and modernize the existing stretch of I-5 that currently connects Portland, Oregon, and Vancouver, Washington. The project came to a halt in 2013 when Washington lawmakers decided not to pay their share of the project.
The plans went dormant for several years until December 2018 when Gov. Inslee included $17.5 million in his budget to open a project office for the purpose of replacing the I-5 bridge.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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