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Critical CRC hearing scheduled Tuesday

by: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - Reducing congestion on the I-5 bridge is one goal of the Columbia River Crossing project.A critical hearing about the Columbia River Crossing will be held at the State Capitol on Tuesday.

Although the hearing itself will not make or break the controversial project, it will greatly influence what the 2014 Oregon Legislature does about it. The 35-day session is scheduled to begin on Feb. 3.

The Joint Interim Committee on Interstate-5 Bridge Replacement will meet on Jan. 14 to review a report on whether and how Oregon council lead a reduced version of the project without funding from Washington.

Subjects to be reviewed include the legal authority of proceeding with an Oregon-led project, an investment-grade analysis of how the project would be funded, and the timelines for its completion.

The Columbia River Crosses originally proposed to replace the I-5 bride bridge between Portland and Vancouver and modify nearby freeway interchanges in both states. The 2013 Oregon Legislature approved $450 million in state funds for the project, but the Washington Legislature refused to authorize its share. Since then, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber directed the Oregon Department of Transportation could build a smaller version of the project that does not include freeway interchange improvements in Washington.

The current version of the project is estimated at around $2.8 billion. The Federal Transit Administration has already approved $250 million for a new light rail line between Portland and Vancouver as part of the project. Oregon would need to be able to impose and collect tolls to finance state-issued bonds, and Congress would need to approve federal highway funds for it to be completed.

The project is strongly supported by many businesses and contraction unions who say it is needed to create jobs and reduce congestion. It is opposed by community activists and environmentalists who say it will increase pollution and sprawl.

Many questions remain to be answered, including whether the proposed tolls will divert commuters to I-205. The recently released investment-grade analysis said that would happen, at least in the short run, but that the remaining I-5 drivers would still generate enough toll revenue to finance the bonds.

Only invited witnesses will be allowed to testify at Tuesday's hearing.

The committee is co-chaired by state Sen. Lee Beyer and state Rep. Tobias Read. The co-vice chairs ares state Sen. Bruce Starr, state Rep. Cliff Bentz and state Rep. Chris Gorsek. The remaing state senators are Chris Edwards, Fred Girod, Bill Hansell, Betsy Johnson, Tim Knopp, Rod Monroe, Chip Shields, Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, Chuck Thomsen, and Jackie Winters. The remaining state representatives are Vicki Berger, Kevin Cameron, John Davis, Margaret Doherty, John Lively, Caddy McKeown, Nancy Nathanson, Julie Parrish, and Greg Smith.