State Sen. Tracey Eide said she is keeping her own budget bottled up in her committee because of proposed amendments she opposes that would restrict funding for the Columbia River Crossing bridge.
Eide, a Democrat, and fellow Transportation Committee co-chairman Curtis King, a Republican, unveiled their transportation budget more than a week ago but it hasn’t received a committee vote. At issue is $81.8 million in planning money for the I-5 bridge between Portland and Vancouver.
Sen. Don Benton, an opponent of light rail on the bridge, has offered amendments targeting that money and said he has support in his majority, mostly Republican caucus. “I just don’t want to give them a blank check,” he said.
Eide said that after years of waiting on the project, it’s time to move — agreeing with sentiments expressed Wednesday by U.S. transportation secretary Ray LaHood. ”We are done. I am done,” Eide said of her refusal to accept the amendments.
“It’s dire. It is a safety issue. Those pilings are wood, and it’s time to step up to the plate and replace them,” Eide said. The money in her budget would not build the bridge, but a separate proposed revenue package would — as long as it comes in time to secure federal matching funds. “I am sick and tired of my tax dollars going to another state,” she said.
But Benton said the U.S. Coast Guard objects to the lower-slung bridge necessitated by the light-rail component so the state hasn’t gotten approval for it. “Why is she fighting for money she can’t spend anyway?” Benton said.
Benton said Eide is trying to “force a community to take light rail.” “The community doesn’t want it,” he said.
“It is not just in a certain district. It’s a national, international highway,” Eide countered.
In a letter to LaHood, Eide and fellow Democrat Annette Cleveland called Republicans’ remarks during LaHood’s visit “undignified” and “political grandstanding:”