Columbia River Crossing debate influenced by I-5 bridge collapse

Columbia River Crossing debate influenced by I-5 bridge collapse
A collapsed section of the Interstate 5 bridge over the Skagit River is seen in an aerial view Friday, May 24, 2013. (AP Photo/The Seattle Times, Mike Siegel)

PORTLAND, Ore. – The collapse of the I-5 bridge over the Skagit River in Washington is putting the spotlight on another bridge debate in the Northwest – the debate over the Columbia River Crossing.

The proposed replacement bridge on I-5 between Oregon and Washington has been mired in controversy since the beginning of the project.

Oregon lawmakers approved their portion of funding for the project, but critical funding in Washington has stalled because of opponents in the state senate.

Lawmakers on both sides of the debate agree that the safety of any bridge over the Columbia River is paramount, but there’s still disagreement over building the CRC.

Opponents argue the old bridge is structurally safe, while supporters say the collapse on Thursday is a wake-up call that we should get moving on a new bridge.

“I hear so many comments not only that it may happen, but I think when we all cross the bridge we’re all saying a prayer,” said Rhona Sen Hoss with the group Washington for CRC. “We hope we make it to the other side. Consciously or sub-consciously I think we all do that.”

State Senator Don Benton, a Republican who represents Vancouver, says the debate about the CRC isn’t an issue of safety. Rather, he said the argument still comes down to whether the new bridge should include light rail or not.

“If the transportation budget comes to the Senate from the House of Representatives with money in it for this bridge that still includes the light rail design it will be dead on arrival,” Benton said.

“I don’t think (the collapse) gets legislators rethinking the CRC. What it might do is get legislators to rethink the maintenance and preservation aspect of the transportation budget,” Benton added.

Under the current proposal, the CRC would include two double-decker bridges with five lanes of travel in each direction. It also would include space for pedestrians, bicyclists and light rail.

Oregon and Washington are each responsible for $450 million of the project, with the federal government and toll revenue paying the rest. Oregon has already approved its portion, but if Washington state does not, the federal match could fall through.

The Associated Press contributed to this report