Push for I-5 bridge intensifies

• Gov. Kitzhaber calls the project a priority for the state; Sen. Courtney remains dubious

The Associated Press /

Published Jan 31, 2014 at 12:01AM

SALEM — The push for a new Interstate 5 bridge over the Columbia River is headed toward a collision course in the Oregon Legislature.

Gov. John Kitzhaber and House Speaker Tina Kotek are continuing their aggressive push for the project. But Senate President Peter Courtney insists that the skeptical Washington Legislature back the project too, not just Gov. Jay Inslee.

“The project is too important for the state not to try and continue the conversation with the information we now have,” Kotek, a Portland Democrat, said Thursday.

Washington’s Senate last year declined to take up the project amid strong opposition to plans to use the new bridge to extend Portland’s light-rail network into Vancouver, Wash. Advocates in Oregon are pushing to move ahead anyway, with Oregon baring all the risk for cost overruns or shortfalls in tolling revenue. Oregon Department of Transportation officials say they can secure necessary permission through intergovernmental agreements with Washington, which wouldn’t require legislative approval in Olympia, Wash.

“It is legally, it is administratively, it is financially, it is operationally doable,” Kitzhaber said. “I think we need to do it. It is an Oregon priority.”

But Courtney, a Salem Democrat, has been vocal in his opposition to moving forward without support from Washington lawmakers.

“We have done our duty,” Courtney said. “The state of Washington needs to do its duty — its state Legislature and its governor.”

Courtney declined to say whether he would use his authority as Senate president to ensure a bridge-funding bill doesn’t reach the Senate floor. He would say only, “I don’t think they could show they have 16 votes,” the minimum needed for a bill to pass the Senate.

Sen. Diane Rosenbaum of Portland, the No. 2 Democrat, also took a skeptical view. “It’s a bridge between two states, and two states need to step up,” Rosenbaum said.