If you’ve ever driven I-5 to Portland you’re familiar with the old Columbia River Bridge. Even though it’s considered to be in good shape – it’s a bottleneck.
But Washington State dropped out of a $2 billion project to replace it when Oregon insisted that it include a light rail connection to Portland.
Oregon is now planning to build it without Washington’s help, except that it wants to use eminent domain to condemn private property on the Washington side. That means an Oregon agency would expropriate private property for public use, with payment of compensation.
Which is why Washington State Senator Don Benton, who represents Clark County, is introducing a bill to prohibit the county’s transit agency from agreeing to anything of the kind.
“It’s the state of Oregon and primarily Metro, which is the agency in Oregon, that insists on putting their tentacles into Clark County,” Benton described.
I thought he was making it sound like some sort of “Oregon Conspiracy.”
“Maybe that’s an appropriate name for it,” Benton said. “I call it arrogance, an Oregon arrogance. Oregon agency Metro can say, we want that property on the corner of such and such and if C-TRAN (Clark County Washington’s public transportation agency) doesn’t condemn it for them, they have to pay $500. We think that is a disgusting incentive to take people’s property.”
For residents of Clark County, that means their transportation system has given control to an entity in Oregon that they didn’t elect and whose leaders aren’t answerable to them.
And Benton said this situation isn’t bringing the first complaints from his constituents about how Oregon laws and plans affect them.
“About 60,000 Washington state residents drive over to Oregon to work everyday anyway and they pay state income tax and the total is about $170 million a year,” said Benton. “They don’t go to school there. They don’t use the fire department there. They don’t use the police department there. They go over there, work and come back.
Yet, they are taxed to the tune of $160, $170 million a year. It’s a very dangerous precedent.”
But even more so – Benton isn’t in favor of replacing the existing Columbia River crossing at all.
Neither Oregon or Washington have ever listed that bridge as deficient in terms of it’s earthquake safety and so it’s built well. It’s always been an issue of moving more traffic across that river, and the I-5 corridor is full.
And that’s part of the reason Oregon wants light rail, but according to Benton it will only reduce bridge traffic by three percent.
So instead, Benton insists that what Oregon and Washington need is a third crossing over the Columbia River – one where the corridor isn’t already full.
And as for Oregon’s “arrogant plan” – Benton has a few choice words for anyone that would go along with it.
“Anybody that would support giving away eminent domain to an out of state entity really shouldn’t be in elected office. They really don’t understand the constitution.”
Benton says if his bill doesn’t pass, property owners are prepared to tie the project up in court.
MyNorthwest.com’s Alyssa Kleven contributed to this report.