Republican lawmakers met with U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on Wednesday and aired their opposition to the current design of the Columbia River Crossing — opposition that might just sink the prospects for a statewide transportation-tax package.
They certainly didn’t seem to cow LaHood, who replied that it’s now or never to secure federal matching funds. “That’s what you get elected to do, you get elected to vote, you get elected to make decisions. It’s decision time,” he told the group of Republicans.
But based on a news release from GOP Sen. Don Benton, you’d think LaHood cried uncle –or maybe just cried.
Benton wrote that the Senate majority went “toe-to-toe” with the secretary and “let LaHood have it.” The nation’s top transportation official “had his hat handed to him.”
“As a result, it wasn’t even a fair fight. I’d say we schooled the transportation secretary in a way he couldn’t possibly have expected.”
In the meeting, LaHood told Republicans: “When you do big things, there are always going to be people who don’t like it. … This is about replacing a bridge that needs to be replaced, it’s about replacing a bridge with a state-of-the-art 21st century bridge.” Here’s an excerpt of the video from the exchange, as posted to YouTube by Democrats – apparently after being briefly posted to a public website by Republicans.
Here’s the news release, headlined: “It’s Benton 1, U.S. transportation secretary 0 in CRC debate at Capitol.”
OLYMPIA… Sen. Don Benton says there’s no question that the people of Clark County came out ahead this morning when he and members of the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus went toe-to-toe with U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood over the Columbia River Crossing project.
“I’ve been working hard to keep our coalition members informed about the many significant flaws in the CRC project, so we were ready with questions when Governor Inslee brought Secretary LaHood in to lobby our coalition this morning. As a result, it wasn’t even a fair fight. I’d say we schooled the transportation secretary in a way he couldn’t possibly have expected,” said Benton, R-Vancouver, noting LaHood’s visit is part of a CRC propaganda blitz at the Capitol today.
“I guess the governor thought he could strong-arm the Senate Majority Coalition into rolling over by bringing the D.C. folks in to give us the same ‘this bridge or no bridge’ lecture he’s been delivering. Instead, the transportation secretary had his hat handed to him, and I have to believe I will find even more support now for my efforts to force a redesign of the CRC project.”
Benton said he and other coalition members let LaHood have it on the whole range of CRC concerns: how the bridge height would cost Clark County thousands of permanent jobs, how replacing the Interstate 5 bridge without addressing the corridor as a whole would fail to reduce commute times from Clark County to Portland by more than one minute, the financial liability that would go with including an extension of light rail from Portland, and more.
Project supporters want the Legislature to authorize a $450 million allocation, which would serve as Washington’s share of the $3.5 billion CRC project; with less than three weeks to go in the 2013 legislative session, Benton said, the writing on the wall is becoming clearer.
“I was very proud of how our coalition joined me in standing up for the people of Clark County,” said Benton, who is the coalition’s deputy leader. “The governor and the CRC supporters are obviously getting more desperate by the day; they see how time is running out to get the Legislature to go along with this boondoggle.”