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Lawmakers From Oregon And Washington To Discuss Replacing Interstate 5 Bridge

<p>The current Interstate 5 bridge connecting Oregon and Washington.</p>

Washington State Department of Transportation

The current Interstate 5 bridge connecting Oregon and Washington.

Oregon lawmakers are ready to return to the table and restart discussions with Washington to replace the Interstate 5 bridge. In a press release sent out on Friday, Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, said the meeting “signals a new level of collaboration between the two states.” 

The bipartisan group of lawmakers from Oregon and Washington will meet for the first time at 2 p.m. Tuesday at the Oregon Association of Minority Entrepreneurs in Portland. The Joint Oregon-Washington Legislative Action Committee was created last year in the Washington Legislature.

“We all agree on the overdue need for a new bridge and a process that maintains the public’s trust and support,” Cleveland wrote in a statement, thanking her Oregon counterparts for participating in next week’s meeting. “I’m not going to suggest this undertaking will be simple or easy, but we are determined to find a path that leads us to a solution in order to build the much-needed replacement bridge.”

In 2013, Republican lawmakers from southwest Washington walked away from the Columbia River Crossing project, effectively killing the last attempt to replace the I-5 bridge. The project would have replaced the century-old bridge across the Columbia River and extended light rail into Vancouver.

Since then, Oregon has been wary about resuming talks of a new bridge.

“I want to know what they have to say this time around,” said Sen. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, one of five Oregon lawmakers who have agreed to be on the committee. “And why we should trust this process.”

Lawmakers from both states agree that a new bridge is long overdue, and point to increased traffic congestion and concerns over safety in the event of a large earthquake.

“There’s a lot at stake here and I think everyone recognizes that,” said Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center.

Rivers, a previous opponent of the Columbia River Crossing project, says she now supports a replacement bridge. “So many people in Washington state actually work in Oregon,” she said. “For their quality of life, this is an investment that has to be made.”

In an Oct. 1 letter to Oregon’s transportation committee co-chairs, House Speaker Tina Kotek and Senate President Peter Courtney said they welcomed restarting discussions about replacing the I-5 Bridge.

“Oregon has a long history of leadership in pursuing a replacement project,” Kotek and Courtney wrote. “Now is the time for a bipartisan group of Oregon legislators to re-engage with our colleagues in Washington to pursue congestion relief and ensure structural security between our two states.”  

Recently several local governments, including the city of Vancouver, Clark County and local ports, have passed resolutions supporting a bridge replacement. 

Washington lawmakers include Sens. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver; Ann Rivers, R-La Center; Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver; Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, and Reps. Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver; Brandon Vick, R-Felida; Jake Fey, D-Tacoma and Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama.

Oregon’s delegation includes Sens. Bentz, Lee Beyer, D-Springfield; Brian Boquist, R-Dallas, and Reps. Caddy McKeown, D-Coos Bay and Susan McLain, D-Hillsboro.

Copyright 2018 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Molly Solomon