Clark County Council passes resolution on I-5 Bridge replacement project

Karen Dill Bowerman and Gary Medvigy
Karen Dill Bowerman and Gary Medvigy

County Council resolution approves a project, but not one with light rail unless it is first approved in an advisory vote by a majority of county residents

Members of the Clark County Council passed a resolution Wednesday in favor of a replacement I-5 Bridge that supports relief of traffic congestion and ensures seismic safety. However, in the resolution, the councilors expressed their opposition to Clark County residents paying for construction, maintenance and operation costs of MAX light rail on the bridge and into Clark County and made it clear that C-TRAN’s Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) was preferred for the project over light rail.

The County Council’s resolution comes on the heels of a unanimous vote of support for the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program’s (IBR) Modified Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA) by the members of the Vancouver City Council and a majority of support by the members of the Southwest Washington Regional Transportation Council. In addition, other partners of the project in both Oregon and Washington also recently gave their support to the project. 

Wednesday’s resolution from the County Council was the strongest comment to date in opposition to the project. The resolution also included support for the creation of a truck-only lane for improved freight mobility, a fourth passenger vehicle through land and for community partners to begin work in support of a third bridge crossing between Clark County and Oregon.

“The different regional stakeholders are weighing in from (Portland) Metro, the City of Vancouver, local Ports, to C-TRAN all joining in to support the locally preferred option that notably includes light rail,’’ said Councilor Gary Medvigy. “They are doing so with conditions, but focusing on providing support to build the bridge quickly. The Clark County Council is not a named stakeholder, but we have a responsibility to speak up on behalf of our constituents that are not being represented by these stakeholder groups.’’

The  County Council considered the resolution during a long meeting Tuesday night.  However, Chair Bowerman was uneasy with some language in the resolution, specifically concerning light rail, so the council decided to consider an amendment of the resolution during their Wednesday morning Council Time. New language for the resolution was presented and discussed during council time, and a vote was taken. Councilor Medvigy, Chair Bowerman and Councilor Dick Rylander  each voted in favor of the resolution and Councilor Julie Olson voted against. Councilor Temple Lentz was absent from both the Tuesday and Wednesday meetings, therefore did not vote on the resolution. 

“I got the white paper out that I had written for the resolution and it really looked to me that the first draft was very clear,’’ Bowerman said. “I sent it out to the council and said let’s consider putting this back into the resolution because it says what we all agree we want to have said. That being that the council opposes every light rail project in Clark County unless it is supported by a majority of the voters in a county-wide vote of the people.’’

Bowerman said the language goes on to state that C-TRAN’s BRT is preferred “because of its cost effectiveness and its flexibility in responding to the transportation needs of the area.’’ 

Medvigy said the council’s resolution represented area residents who have continually voiced opposition to the inclusion of light rail in the project, both in the failed Columbia River Crossing (CRC) and the current project.

“The issue for SW Washington’s taxpayers is that they have on multiple occasions spoken up and expressed, including through advisory votes, that light rail is NOT supported,’’ Medvigy wrote in an email response to Clark County Today. “The lessons learned from the failed CRC are different for different stakeholders. Notably, the takeaway for (IBR Administrator) Greg Johnson’s team is to manage their messaging differently, instead of the direct taxpayer message – don’t include light rail. So, it was important for the county to speak up and not join the chorus of this narrative to support the locally preferred option. 

“There is no current mass transit data to support building light rail at this time,’’ Medvigy stated. “A plan to expand C-TRAN buses as a transit option isn’t strongly supported either at this time, since ridership across the river is not in great demand. Buses, however, can readily expand as the need grows at comparatively low cost. So, buses, as the mass transit component makes the most sense today and into the near future. On the other hand, a $1.3 billion and higher price tag (for light rail) as an add-on cost to the I-5 bridge at a time when there is little demand is a very poor decision and an excessive waste of precious taxpayer money. Light rail is a complex capital project by itself, with a huge price tag and should be separately addressed as a future project once the demand signal for its existence is clear. That data doesn’t exist today.’’

Although the Clark County Council is not considered a partner to the current project, the resolution will be passed on to the IBR team.

“That is the message we hope to deliver to Greg Johnson and with an open mind the stakeholders will return to focus on what is essential: a new bridge, congestion relief and freight mobility through auxiliary lane expansion,’’ Medvigy said. “Let’s drop the added complexity and cost of light rail for the locally preferred option.’’

Bowerman said the IBR team is “good at listening and they need to hear that all of Clark County is not, in fact, united on the joy of bringing light rail to the county. That’s what this message tells them. It says there are other factors that need to be considered before it is pushed on to the citizens of the county, that being not just the financing, but also a vote being taken on whether or not they wish to have it in the county.’’ 

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  1. John Ley

    Thank you Karen Bowerman, Gary Medvigy, and Dick Rylander! I appreciate your faithful representation of the facts, and most importantly, in representing the people of Clark County!

  2. MetaWorld2

    Very pleased with discussion and conclusions thus far, which seems to include some good, common sense proposals; especially the efficacy of C-Tran and Bus viability.

    Portland Light Rail never did prove itself in recovery of costs!

    New Bridge is LONG overdue. Not too mention the already WASTED $93Million of taxpayer $’s stolen from taxpayers in the I-5 Bridge Proposals several years ago; and STILL NO BRIDGE !

    No WONDER people get upset!

    1. Richard L Bullington

      You DO know who was responsible for that “$93 Million of taxpayer $’s [being] stolen” don’t you? In case you weren’t here in 2014 or have had a Red Pill Memory Lapse, it was Helicopter Don Benton you can thank for the wastage. It was he — with Anne Richards’ help — who convinced the Washington State Senate “Majority Caucus” to axe funding for the CRC after all the agreements were finally worked out.

      Then give him a big kiss of “Thanks” for an extra six or so years of tolling because the price of the replacement bridge has increased by roughly 50% — for LESS BRIDGE. But don’t vote for him to go back to Olympia and whine some more.

      The biggest irony is that the nasty part of the bridge replacement — building and using the shoo-flies necessary to connect the new roadway to the existing one — would probably have taken place during the depth of the Covid traffic plunge. It wouldn’t have eased the problems for the entire time it would have taken to connect up, but it would have been quite a nice boon.

  3. Richard L Bullington

    I agree with the County Council that buses make more sense for the I-5 bridge, with one very important condition. That is that the buses must have their own lane across the bridge (it can be HOV 3+) so that the buses can do their job. They have the inner shoulder lane from 78th south and that should lead directly into a bus-only or HOV 3+ lane on the bridge. If you have Bus Rapid Transit it must be reliably faster than the cars alongside it. This is for the C-Tran Expresses, which should go many more places in Oregon directly.

    Also, there must be bus bypass lanes on the ramps up to the bridge from Downtown Vancouver and Hayden Island so that the “real BRT” buses can pass the queues waiting for the ramp meters. Again, let the buses do their job.

    Finally, the County Council should express its support for Washington County’s proposed “Northwest Connector”. It’s unpopular in Clark County because it doesn’t lead to another bridge; it’s actually planned to improve the lives of the Oregon taxpayers who will fund it. But, it would be a natural outlet for the roughly 40% increase in traffic that a new bridge with four lanes and full shoulders will carry.

    The Northwest Connector is planned to run from I-5 and Marine Drive across a new mid-level bridge crossing the Willamette a half mile west of the St. John’s Bridge, diagonal over Cornelius Pass and end at Cornelius Pass Road and the Sunset Freeway (26 West). C-Tran should send Express buses over it to several points in Washington County.


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