Although the new transportation budget adopted by the Legislature doesn’t include nearly enough money to keep the proposed Columbia River Crossing project on schedule, Sen. Ann Rivers says she and others who oppose or question the controversial $3.5 billion bridge-replacement have reason to remain vigilant.
“For CRC supporters, the fact that the legislative session has gone into overtime means they can still put up a last-second shot at full funding,” said Rivers, R-La Center, noting today is the fifth day of a “special” session that could last 30 days. “The best way to guard against that is to keep the focus on the defects in the project until the Legislature adjourns for the year and the clock finally runs out.”
Those problems are already well-known, Rivers said – how the CRC project design wouldn’t significantly reduce traffic congestion or improve freight mobility, and how it gives priority to light rail at the expense of maritime traffic.
“To me the writing is on the wall, meaning the CRC project has little chance of moving forward until all of the problems are properly addressed,” Rivers said. “However, those of us who question or oppose the project as it’s designed should expect to see at least one more run made at financing the CRC in full while the Legislature is still in session.”
The new transportation budget allocates about $82 million to the CRC for planning and related work. Nearly all of that is to remain unspent while the U.S. Coast Guard looks at how the project design would hamper river traffic and navigation and decides whether to approve permits the project needs to proceed.
In the meantime, Rivers expects there are more flaws in the CRC project to be uncovered. Before the Legislature’s regular session ended April 28 she and other leaders in the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus had asked Gov. Jay Inslee to commission a separate independent audit in response to concerns raised by a pair of forensic accountants, based on an examination of CRC records. Inslee said no, even though the CRC is on a list of state transportation “megaprojects” slated to undergo a review that could cost nearly a half-million dollars.
“The governor told us the CRC project has been ‘audited repeatedly’ and there’s no need to spend more money on a ‘duplicative review.’ If that’s true why is his new transportation secretary spending money on yet another review?” Rivers asked. “I’m open to having the Senate do its own investigation, if that’s what it takes to determine whether the taxpayers can have any faith in the people behind the CRC project – whether it goes forward this year or not.”