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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Washington, Oregon Know What They Want From Trump

Tom Banse
Northwest News Network
The I-5 bridge over the Columbia River is functionally obsolete and at risk of collapse in a major earthquake.

There’s a lot the Democratic governors of Washington and Oregon don’t want from President-elect Donald Trump. They’re miles apart on health care, immigration and trade. But it turns out each governor does have a wish list for the new administration.

Oregon and Washington are still relying on a 100-year-old bridge to safely carry tens-of-thousands of cars a day over the Columbia River. The Interstate 5 Bridge between the two states is actually a pair of bridges. The oldest of the two spans turns 100 this year.

The bridge could collapse in a major earthquake and it’s “functionally obsolete.” That’s engineer-speak for “time to replace.”

And that’s where Donald Trump comes in. He talked a lot throughout the campaign about rebuilding America’s infrastructure. He mentioned it again in his victory speech on Election Night.

“We are going to fix our inner-cities and rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals, we’re going to rebuild our infrastructure,” Trump said.

Trump has talked about spending $1 trillion over the next decade to do this. By comparison the post-Great Recession American Reinvestment and Recovery Act under President Obama spent about $840 billion.

‘I’m really seeing bipartisan consensus'

After the election, Trump’s transition team got in touch with the National Governors Association in Washington, D.C. and basically said we want a list of shovel-ready projects in each of the states that could benefit from a federal infrastructure package.

Scott Pattison, executive director and CEO of the National Governors Association, put out the word to his members.

“We received a good reaction,” he said with a laugh.

At last count, Pattison has more than 40 wish-lists from more than 40 states. In other words, it appears whether you’re a Trump-loving Republican governor or a Democratic governor who loathes Trump, infrastructure doesn’t have a “D” or an “R” next to it.

“As far as the desire to actually build and maintain and repair infrastructure, I’m really seeing bipartisan consensus,” Pattison said.

Washington and Oregon both submitted letters to the Trump transition team via the National Governors Association. The letter from Oregon began: “Please extend to President-elect Trump’s transition team Governor Kate Brown’s appreciation for the interest and opportunity to highlight major, shovel-ready infrastructure projects in Oregon in need of federal investment.”

The letter went on to ask for money for seismic upgrades to roads and bridges, funds to reduce traffic congestion as well as money for rural water needs, irrigation improvements, levee upgrades and rural broadband.

The letter from Washington was less effusive, but also more specific about the projects the state wants funded. Sam Ricketts heads Gov. Jay Inslee’s D.C. office. and signed Washington’s letter.

“Governor Inslee remains very concerned about the rhetoric and the policy agenda that the President-elect has outlined,” he said.

But when it comes to building stuff Ricketts said, “The state of Washington stands ready to work with Republicans and Democrats to make sure that our state and other states are benefitting from what should be an increased level of federal investment in infrastructure.”

Keeping realistic expectations

Washington’s wish-list to the Trump administration includes money to widen two gridlocked corridors on Seattle’s eastside, accelerate the build out of Sound Transit light rail, electrify the transportation system and upgrade drinking water systems. But the top priority is replacing seismically at-risk bridges like the I-5 Columbia River Crossing. A previous bridge replacement plan--complete with federal funding--collapsed in 2013 amid partisan acrimony.

Republican state Sen. Ann Rivers represents southwest Washington and was a key player in that battle. After Trump was elected, she hoped Washington and Oregon might get a fresh shot at not just one, but three Columbia River bridge replacements. She noted the Hood River Bridge and the Bridge of the Gods are also in poor shape.

But now Rivers isn’t feeling so optimistic after hearing that Trump wants to let private companies finance and build new roads and bridges and then pay for them through tolls.

“He’s doing business in a different way than we are accustomed to,” Rivers said.

But she said she’ll keep an open mind.

“We can’t give away the farm to get the bridge,” Rivers said. “I think that we’ve got to be savvy in our negotiations and I think we have to be realistic in our negotiations.”

The National Governors Association said its message to Trump and the new Republican-led Congress is give states a range of options to fund projects. The Governors Association message to the states is there will be probably be an infrastructure package, but be realistic about what it’ll fund.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."