Washington tries to woo Oregon back to Interstate Bridge

Washington tries to woo Oregon back to Interstate Bridge

Before she entered politics, Anne McEnerny-Ogle was a junior high math teacher who commuted for a quarter-of-a-century between Clark County and Lake Oswego.

As Vancouver’s mayor, solving problems is an integral part of her life. So is the 100-year-old Interstate Bridge, the Interstate 5 drawbridge over the Columbia River that still stands unchanged despite calls for its replacement since the 1990s.

Now, five years after a few Washington state senators left Oregon at the altar and killed the decadelong plan to replace the bridge, she has one thing to say to Oregonians: We’re sorry.

McEnerny-Ogle thinks that apology may help solve a thorny political problem: How Washington can woo Oregon back and get the bridge replaced.

“Bless their hearts,” she said of her Oregon counterparts. “I absolutely understand we screwed them over big time with what happened.”

Though she played no role in ending the ill-fated Columbia River Crossing project – she, in fact, supported it – McEnerny-Ogle understands some Oregonians want an apology tour led by Washington leaders. Since taking office in January, McEnerny-Ogle has obliged, repeatedly apologizing for Washington’s role in killing the bi-state project after nearly $200 million in planning costs.

She doesn’t mind being that voice, because she said the region shares the same air, the same economy and the same fact that the bridge is a liability that grows with every traffic-snarled commute.

“We want to make sure that when the big earthquake comes, all the 65,000 people who work in your metro get home safe,” she said of Washington commuters. “Otherwise, you’re going to have to house them and feed them.”

Her efforts may be helping as discussions to revive the long-jinxed bridge replacement project take their first, wobbly steps.

Some long-time stakeholders, like freight advocacy group leader Corky Collier, say it is past time to start dancing. “It’s time for us to be grownups and start thinking about what’s best for our communities,” he said.

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