OLYMPIA, Wash. — A top assistant to Washington state’s attorney general says he sees no legal barriers to an Oregon-led project to build a new Columbia River bridge — as long as Washington money isn’t used.
In letters this week to Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Coast Guard Rear Admiral F.J. Kenney, Senior Assistant Attorney General Bryce Brown wrote that Washington can legally authorize Oregon to build and operate the proposed Interstate 5 bridge replacement on Washington soil.
Both The Columbian and The Oregonian carried reports on Brown’s letters.
The Washington Legislature adjourned earlier this year without providing any money for the project. Now it has resurfaced as a pared-down effort led by Oregon.
The revised project would build a new bridge over the Columbia between Portland and Vancouver, Wash., with light rail and tolls. It would cost an estimated $2.7 billion.
The Coast Guard is considering whether to approve a permit the project needs to move forward.
“We see no fatal flaws that would preclude Oregon’s lead on the project,” Brown wrote Thursday.
The letter follows a similar opinion from the Oregon Department of Justice.
The Coast Guard had asked primarily about the ability of various state agencies to authorize Oregon to conduct work on the bridge in Washington. In each case, Brown’s letter found that such arrangements are possible with intergovernmental agreements - and without legislative approval. A memo to Inslee reached a similar conclusion on light rail, permitting, mitigation agreements and tolling.
“These are good signs of progress,” said Tim Raphael, a spokesman for Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber.
Supporters say the project is critical to keeping commercial traffic moving on I-5 and would provide thousands of temporary construction jobs.
Two aging bridges currently carry I-5 across the river.
A key critic, Washington state Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, called the latest development “ridiculous” and termed the bridge “a pipe dream.”
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