Washington State Senate to put kibosh on CRC (for now)?

KOIN-TV is reporting that prospects for CRC funding being passed by the GOP-controlled Washington State Senate appear to be dimming, as two influential members of that body–Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, and Majority Leader Rodney Tom, D-Medina, have indicated they likely will not support the project. King is a longstanding critic of the CRC, particularly of light rail. Tom is one of two Democrats who, after last year’s election gave the Democrats a slim 26-23 lead in the 49-seat Senate, announced he would instead caucus with the GOP, giving them a 25-24 lead and control with the chamber–a maneuver he was able to parley into the Majority Leader’s gavel. (Tom previously had defected from the party line to assist Republicans in passing a budget slashing education and public services, though did not withdraw support from Senate leadership at that time. The state Democrats have essentially booted Tom from the party, and will surely seek his ouster come 2014, when his term expires; but for now, he’s one of the most powerful men in Olympia).

The Washington Senate leadership has also requested that governor Jay Inslee audit the project, and further requesting that auditors be independent of both WSDOT and of any transportation contractors. Governor Inslee had previously ordered an audit of the CRC and of the Big Pipe and SR520 Bridge projects, but state Republicans objected to the choice of auditor, noting that the named audit director is a former WSDOT administrator who is now acting as a consultant for the CRC, for which his conultancy has received over $2M.

Most of the objection from Washington Republicans comes from the inclusion of light rail, and of the bridge height issue. The two issues go hand-in-hand, as removal of the lower deck would be a partial solution to the bridge height issue, and raising the bridge might increase the approach grades to a slope that is undesirable for bikes and pedestrians and unsafe for trains.

The Senate’s term ends in roughly three weeks. Many supporters have long claimed that local financing for the project must be approved by this summer, or else federal funding for the project will disappear, a claim which is disputed by project critics. Governor Inslee, for his part, remains committed to the project. Political leaders in Oregon, including both Governor Kitzhaber and Portland mayor Charlie Hales, continue to support the project; and all three insist that light rail is a non-negotiable component of the Columbia River Crossing. The project’s proposed finance package depends heavily on $850 of New Starts funding from the FTA.

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