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CRC testmony goes into evening

by: OREGON DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION - Artists rendering of proposed Columbia River Crossing.The 2014 Oregon Legislature held its first hearing on an Oregon-led Columbia River Crossing project on Wednesday afternoon.

The hearing started at 3 p.m. and the final witness testified four hours later. The majority of them spoke in support of the project.

The committee was expected to work on an amendment to a bill to authorize the project, but not vote on it Wednesday evening.

Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber was the first witness at the hearing before the House Transportation and Economic Development Committee. He called the $2.9 billion project reasonable, feasible and affordable.

Kitzhaber said replacing the aging I-5 spans between Oregon and Washington was necessary to ensure the state's economic future, noting it was a vital link for exports.

Oregon State Treasurer Ted Wheeler testified that toll revenue would be sufficient to pay the state-issued bonds necessary to help fund the project.

The Legislature is considering approving an Oregon-led project because the Washington Legislature has refused to commit state funds to it.

Wheeler said a joint project would be "less financially risky" than an Oregon-led project, but "the revenues are there if we can collect them."

Washington state Sen. Annette Cleveland said most of her state's legislators were in favor of the project, but that a minority of the state Senate had prevented the funding bill from coming up for a vote last session. She called the opponents in her state "a vocal minority." She said both of the current spans were funded with tolls collected from Washington through an intergovernmental agreement with Oregon, as called for in the current proposal.

Washington House Speaker Pro Tem Jim Moeller also testified in favor of the project.

"All you need is to say yes," Moeller said.

Tom Chamberlain, president of the Oregon AFL-CIO, testified in support of the project, saying it was "the best compromise possible between out current and future needs." He said it had an "unbeatable five-to-one return on invesment.

A variety of port and local government officials also testified in favor of the project, saying it was critical for the future of the region's economy.

Port of Portland Executive Director Bill Wyatt and Columbia Corridor Association Executive Director Corky Collier both testified the project was necessary to reduce costly freight backlogs.

Several Hayden Island residents and business owners testified the project was the only solution for their current congestion problems on the horizon.

Numerous business leaders also testified in support of the project.

Sandra McDonough, president and CEO of the Portland Business Alliance, called the project critical for the regional economy because much of its is dependent on exports and on-time freight deliveries.

McDonough admitted the current version of the project is not perfect, but said, "If we wait for perfect, we'll never get this project done."

Ryan Deckert, president of the Oregon Business Association, thanked the committee for taking the leadership on the issue and bringing it to a vote.

State Rep. Lew Frederick of North Portland testified against the project, saying all the neighborhood association in his district were opposed to the project because it would do noting to reduce air pollution and consume all available transportation funds for the foreseeable future.

Clackamas County Chair John Ludlow said his commission is concerned the proposed tolls will push 30,000 more vehicle trips a day to I-205, resulting in its "total gridlock and failure." He said the commission was not necessarily opposed to the project, however.

Doug Moore, executive director for the League of Conservation Voters, testified against the project, saying it was a major threat to Oregon because of its costs and diversion of traffic, which would increase greenhouse gas emissions.

Economist Joe Cortright, a longtime critic of the project, called it a "transportation nightmare," saying the projections of the project's consultant could not be trusted. Although Cortright has criticized the project from the start, he is currently a registered lobbyist on behalf of Plaid Pantry, which also opposes it.

Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission member Chris Smith testified the project would create more problems for Portland than it would solve.

The committee includes Chair Tobias Read, vice chairs Cliff Bentz and Chris Gorsek, and members Kevin Cameron, John Davis, Margaret Doherty, John Lively, Caddy McKeown, Nancy Nathanson and Julie Parrish.