Friday, September 18, 2009

Reporter's Notebook

Paul Leonard can be reached at

RIP 12-lane CRC?

Portland Mayor Sam Adams suspended a February agreement today on the proposed Columbia River Crossing project, putting the future of a replacement span in question even as a leading figure in Vancouver’s business community announced last night a reinvigorated push to get it built.

While Adams’ decision wasn’t completely unexpected, what was a bit unusual about today’s statement was the degree of skepticism shown by Portland’s leading citizen about the level of support among Vancouverites for the project’s tolling and proposed light rail components.

In an interview this afternoon with the VBJ, Adams said today’s statement was made in response to toughening attitudes against bridge tolls on this side of the river. “The context has shifted,” he said. “Tolls have long been assumed to be part of the new bridge.”

Also reached by the VBJ this afternoon, Leavitt saw the death of the February agreement as an “incredible opportunity” to rethink plans for a replacement bridge, including paring down the number of lanes open to vehicle traffic, reconsidering the location of highway interchanges and changing the construction timetable on the project.

One point, at least, there seems to be agreement between Adams and Leavitt: “My take on things is that the 12-lane proposal is off the table,” Adams said.

That development could be seen as a blow to Vancouver’s business community, as well as Southwest Washington commuters, who have emphasized maximizing the number of lanes open to vehicular traffic on the span from the very beginning. Last night, newly-installed Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce Board Director Don Russo called for local business to increase pressure on Olympia and Washington, D.C. to get the replacement bridge built.

With the framework of an agreement between the two cities on either side of the replacement span apparently in tatters, what are the chances of getting greenhouse gas-hating Portlanders and toll-weary Vancouverites on the same page on the CRC?

Adams said he hoped there was still room for agreement. “The most important thing is the freight,” he said. “We have an opportunity to help both of our ports to compete with the world, as well as getting 20,000 commuters from the north side of the river to get on light rail.”