Vancouver won't pay to visit Dem-happy Oregon

In Oregon, voters elected a slate of Democrats and approved funding measures for schools and libraries, but Vancouver, WA won't budge on funding the Columbia River bridge.
Charlie Hales

Charlie Hales Charlie Hales for Mayor

A concept graphic of the planned Columbia River Crossing.

A concept graphic of the planned Columbia River Crossing. Columbia River Crossing

Voters in Washington's southernmost city on Tuesday threw a monkey wrench into plans for a $3.5 billion bridge across the Columbia River, linking Vancouver with Portland and replacing the aging Interstate 5 bridge over the river.

Vancouver voters, always cognizant of the need to define themselves as "not Portland," were giving only 43.7 percent support to a 0.1 percent increase in the sales tax as a way of raising the local match for the Columbia River Crossing. The levy would pay for mass transit on the new bridge; for years, Vancouverites have complained about traffic backups on I-5, but they have never embraced Portland's love affair with light rail.

Rejection of Vancouver funding for the bridge throws it once again into uncertainty, and sponsors look to the region's senior Democratic senators, Patty Murray and Ron Wyden, to help them out of the gridlock. Project leaders hope for a 2014 start, but that appears unlikely.

Backers of the bridge promise to look for other sources of funding. The sales-tax increase would have produced $5 million its first year.

Otherwise, across the Columbia Democrats swept the table Tuesday in Oregon, turning back Republican efforts to reverse the political status quo that dates to the 1980s, but voters rejected legalizing marijuana to remain just a step behind Washington on the nation's Left Coast. With vote-counting nearing 100 percent at noon Wednesday, the legal-marijuana measure was trailing with only 45.2 percent approval.

"In light of Tuesday's election, should you invest in Clark County real estate to accommodate fleeing Oregonians who want the right to marry a same-sex partner or smoke a joint in peace?" wondered The Oregonian's Jeff Mapes, dean of the state's political reporters. "Of course, you have to wonder how those new Washingtonians will commute back to their jobs in Oregon. Now that Clark County voters jettisoned a sales tax to pay for light rail, it throws another kink in the plans for that shiny new bridge over the Columbia carrying cars, bikes and MAX in splendid harmony," Mapes continued.

Oregon voted predictably for President Barack Obama, with 53 percent in near-complete results as of Wednesday at noon, and re-elected all five members of Congress with good margins.

Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber, serving an unprecedented third term, gained Democratic control of both houses of the Legislature; the House had been a 30-30 proposition, but Democrats picked up four seats to gain control and held control of the Senate 16-14. The battle was joined in the Portland suburbs, where GOP gains in 2010 were reversed.

Republicans had hoped to regain one or two statewide offices — the party has not held a statewide office since U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith was defeated for reelection in 2008. But Democratic Secretary of State Kate Brown was leading Republican Knute Buehler and three minor-party candidates early Wednesday, 50.6 percent to Buehler's 44.3 percent. Democratic Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian had a 51.9 percent to 47.6 percent edge over Republican Bruce Starr.

Kitzhaber served two terms as governor in the 1990s, plagued by nasty battles with a conservative Republican majority in the House; he was limited to two consecutive terms, but came back in 2010. There is no heir apparent; if he leaves in 2012 the office of Secretary of State is a traditional grooming spot in Oregon, but Brown showed vulnerability in this year's voting. Another candidate could be Treasurer Ted Wheeler, a former Multnomah County (Portland) commissioner who won election easily Tuesday night. He was appointed in 2010 to fill a vacancy. And Kitzhaber, a very fit 65 years of age, may seek a second (fourth) term.

In Portland, voters retained their liberal voting record by approving a $482 million bond measure to upgrade several public schools, rebuild one grade school and do seismic upgrades and other long-deferred maintenance. The measure got 65 percent approval after a long grassroots campaign; a previous bond effort failed in 2011. Voters also added to their tax basket by approving a permanent library financing district for Multnomah County and an income tax for arts instruction in the schools.


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Comments:

Posted Thu, Nov 8, 7:42 a.m. Inappropriate

This is a great piece of reporting, Floyd. Concise, on point analysis. Very helpful. Thanks.

DJ Wilson

Posted Thu, Nov 8, 8:10 a.m. Inappropriate

There were sales-tax hike propositions on the ballot this week from two RCW 36.57A “PTBA” taxing districts: the one in Clark County and the one in Pierce County. Both were rejected.

Apparently people didn’t feel it wise to approve additional regressive taxing power requests made by unaccountable boards that are not managing transit services well.

crossrip

Posted Thu, Nov 8, 11:05 a.m. Inappropriate

The real story is not the Columbia River Crossing (CRC) and the defeat of the small sales tax to pay for a miniscule amount of maintenance for light rail, from which long needed Bus Rapid Transit would also have been funded.

No. The real story is that the bridge is on life support because two of the three Clark County Commissioners are now vehemently opposed to the CRC's light rail and any tolls to pay for the bridge. And the Commissioners opposition may well sink a project for which there is no secured funding: State or Federal.

Oregon elected officials insist on light rail, which they should. For pennies Vancouver would be connected to a metropolitan mass transit system. But Vancouver is sometimes called "Vantucky" for a reason. A small but politically powerful group of activists is opposing the bridge because "Portland criminals" will use light rail to bring crime to Clark County.

Oregon has many capital projects on which they would likely prefer to spend limited transportation dollars, and they need the bridge far less than Washington. And Washington legislators have capital projects in the Puget Sound they likely prefer.

The bridge is a significant impediment to north-south commercial traffic. It is the only draw bridge between California and Canada. And it has a high Federal priority for this reason.

But with the election of a vehemently opposed Clark County Commission, a botched planning process that cost $140 million and can't get a Coast Guard permit because it proposed a bridge too low for critical river traffic, and no secure funding from either State or the Federal government, things do not look good for bridge proponents.

This political melodrama "cluster" would make a great case study of how not to build a critical capital project, ranking right up there with Sea-Tac's third runway and the Seattle tunnel.

Posted Fri, Nov 9, 7:38 a.m. Inappropriate

This political melodrama "cluster" would make a great case study of how not to build a critical capital project, ranking right up there with Sea-Tac's third runway and the Seattle tunnel.

By "Seattle tunnel" are you referring to one of the three tunneling projects in Seattle by Sound Transit, or the WSDOT one under the waterfront?

I'm surprised to see a poster at Crosscut say things like "Sea-Tac's third runway and the Seattle tunnel" are examples of "how not to build a critical capital project". Do you know anything about Sound Transit's capital projects? We could discuss whether or not, say, East Link is being designed, financed, managed and constructed properly. It is an abject disaster, in all respects -- far worse than the third runway or WSDOT's project along Seattle's waterfront.

Let's do it this way, Snus -- we'll start with the cost to local taxpayers: what will East Link cost local taxpayers in terms of sales tax and car tab tax? It's been four years since the ST2 ballot measure was approved. I'm sure you can put your hands on that figure.

Oh, and the third runway and WSDOT's SR-99 work in Seattle are not going to cost local taxpayers anything in terms of new local regressive taxes. I guess those two examples of "bad management" you cite aren't so bad after all in that respect, right?

crossrip

Posted Thu, Nov 8, 1:57 p.m. Inappropriate

On a side note, thank you crosscut for this regional piece. I have no intention of getting involved at this time but it made me realize the link I have with interstate 5 to the rest of the northwest.

uncletim

Posted Thu, Nov 8, 10:48 p.m. Inappropriate

I echo uncletim. The regional approach is much appreciated.

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