The collapse of the I-5 bridge over the Skagit River could reverberate in Olympia where funding for a mega-bridge project hangs in the balance.
The I-5 bridge between Vancouver and Portland has at least one thing in common with the bridge that collapsed into the Skagit River; both are considered functionally obsolete. Not unsafe, just not up to modern construction standards.
There's a plan in place to replace the Columbia River span, part of which is almost 100-years old. And the Legislature is debating a way to pay for Washington's share
"There's $450 million in the new revenue package, which we are negotiating with the Senate at this time," said Democrat Judy Clibborn, chair of the House Transportation Committee.
Republicans in the Senate oppose the new bridge, in part because of a light rail component. Clibborn said if lawmakers can't agree on a 10 cent a gallon gas tax increase to pay for the bridge, the state could start over.
"And if we start over, it will be very expensive." That's because the state could lose hundreds of millions of federal dollars.
Oregon has already committed $450 million as its share of the $3.5 billion Columbia River Crossing (CRC) project, which is also awaiting approval from the U.S. Coast Guard.
The collapse of the Skagit River bridge might convince some lawmakers to re-consider their opposition to replacing the Columbia River bridge, which was built on wood pilings in 1917.
"I don't think it's going to influence anybody who detests the bridge, doesn't want light rail and has fought it from day one," said Clibborn. "But I think there are other people who might be moved to say 'we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get this bridge done.'"
Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, is fighting the new Columbia River bridge. The deputy Republican leader thinks the I-5 Skagit bridge collapse is unrelated and will not change any votes. He told the Oregonian, "the bridge sustained damage -- a truck hit it and broke it."
The Washington Legislature is expected to vote on a bridge funding package next month and the imagery of cars tumbling into the Columbia River might be enough to convince one or two lawmakers to vote 'yes.'
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