The Columbia River Crossing (CRC) on Interstate 5 is a project more than a decade in the making.
A joint project between Washington state, Oregon and the federal government, the CRC would replace the World War I-era drawbridge between Vancouver and Portland with a safe, modern bridge.
The new structure would create better connections to I-5 throughout a five-mile corridor to reduce accidents and congestion.
It would connect Southwest Washington to Portland’s successful light-rail system, giving commuters access to new transit options and bringing new businesses and customers together.
And it would provide our state’s manufacturers with the infrastructure they need to move goods quickly and efficiently.
As the chair of the Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee in the U.S. Senate, I’ve worked with my colleagues in Congress, our state legislators in Olympia and legislators in Oregon to support it.
But the most critical aspect of the CRC is the amount of federal funding that we’ve been able to commit — almost twice what transit projects around the country have received.
So, after many years of deliberations, studies and comment periods, we now have a significant federal commitment, a bi-state compromise between the Oregon and Washington state departments of Transportations, the two governors and other stakeholders
and support from local businesses.
Now, we only need Olympia to act.
Last week’s collapse of the I-5 bridge in Skagit County was another startling wake-up call to the need to reinvest in our transportation infrastructure, including bridges with obsolete designs and years of wear and tear. On that, we all agree.
But, as with any major project, when it comes to the CRC, there has been plenty of disagreement.
However, as one of my former colleagues once said: “We’re all entitled to our own opinions, but not our own facts.”
So I want to be very clear on the facts when it comes to the CRC, because there has been so much misinformation spread about this important project.
First, redesigning the CRC, including removal of the light-rail component, is not an option.
Federal funding is tied to the bridge design negotiated by officials from the two states and local stakeholders, and without light rail, the project will lose funds already committed by Oregon and the federal government.
A new design would put us on the hook to repay federal funds we’ve already invested and restart a decadelong permitting process, killing the project’s future.
Second, we cannot afford to miss this opportunity.
In the short term, the CRC would create 4,200 new jobs and $231 million in new wages.
More than 99 percent of businesses that ship goods along the Columbia River would not be impacted by the CRC’s height, and mitigation agreements have been reached with two of the three major manufacturers that would be impacted by the bridge design.
For workers and businesses who need an efficient highway and transit system, the CRC is a solution to years of jobs-and-profit-killing congestion.
Finally, the fact is we’re running out of time.
If Olympia doesn’t act now to provide our state’s share of the funding, the federal money we’ve secured will go instead to projects in Texas, California and the Carolinas.
So it’s up to our legislators to summon the will to support our state’s economy and move this important project forward.
The alternative is to lag behind with a crumbling bridge and the worst bottleneck on I-5, slowing down businesses and limiting our state’s potential.
Patty Murray is the senior U.S. Senator from Washington state.