Rep. Liz Pike holds second in series of Transportation Solutions Town Hall meetings

VANCOUVER — For the second time this year, Rep. Liz Pike (R-Camas) hosted a Transportation Solutions Legislative Town Hall meeting. And just as was the case in February at the first town hall Pike hosted, the experts and citizens who gathered Saturday at Washington State University Vancouver’s Dengerink Administrative building seemed to have a common belief.

The common theme of the transportation experts Pike had gathered and the citizens who spoke was that Clark County’s transportation issues are getting worse and very little is being done about it.

“It’s a small, crowded lifeboat that we’re all in,’’ said Bill Wagner, who offered a proposal for a new West Express Bridge/Tunnel crossing over the Columbia River. “This is insanity.’’

Click icon in upper left of video to see all eight videos in playlist. Video by Mike Schultz.

Once again, Pike’s efforts were not focused on any one solution to the transportation issues facing residents of both southwest Washington and the Portland Metropolitan area. In fact, Pike tipped her hand by stating that she believes the needs to be multiple solutions.

“Ultimately, we need to have a program of three projects that we all agree on that we can move forward with,’’ said Pike, who said she was 20 years old when the I-205 Glenn Jackson Bridge was opened to the public. “The minute we opened that bridge, we should have started work on bridges three and four. We can’t wait another day.’’

But, that’s exactly what residents of Clark County are being forced to do — wait. And, the reason for that?.

“We have to come up with a new way we pay for transportation,’’ Pike said. “That’s the stark reality.’’

Since the Columbia River Crossing project failed in 2014, there has seemingly been very little cooperation between lawmakers in Washington and Oregon, who have done little more than just have cursory conversations about transportation solutions. It’s clear that elected officials from the two states have different agendas for transportation issues.

Pike stated that Oregon is focused on getting people out of their cars with the use of mass transit and other forms of public transportation and Washington residents are fighting passionately to stay in their cars.

“We have two competing transportation ideologies,’’ Pike said. “Oregon wants to change people’s behavior when it comes to how they move about. We want to move about the way we choose. We have  to thread that needle and find transportation solutions that satisfy both of those ideologies.’’

Because, if the two states can’t thread that needle, they won’t agree on funding, and that is the bottom line to any proposed solution.

“The political reality we’re  dealing with is the citizens are expected to pay for whatever project we build,’’ Pike said. “We send 80,000 folks to work in Oregon. They’re not as motivated because they don’t send 80,000 people to work over here.’’

Many of the presenters at Saturday’s town hall urged citizens to get involved and put pressure on their lawmakers.

“We have to get the politicians to take a long-term look,’’ said Dave Nelson, who presented his proposal of a Practical Design Fly-over near I-5. “We’re clearly working with a partner (Oregon) who is broke. Neither state is stepping up to the plate. That’s how bad things are. You’ve got to elect the right folks to get this done.’’

Pike and the rest of the presenters at Saturday’s meeting seemed  to acknowledge that the existing I-5 Bridge would need to be replaced at some point. And more than one of the proposals included a plan to update, or replace, the I-5 Bridge. However, none of those who spoke professed a belief that, by itself, an I-5 Bridge replacement project would solve the transportation issues.

“You don’t increase capacity by building a bridge and tearing down a bridge,’’ said Bill Huyette, who offered a proposal to build a new tunnel below the I-5 corridor.

Here’s a look at the five proposed solutions to the area’s transportation congestion at Saturday’s meeting:

West Express Bridge Tunnel

The West Express is an eight-lane limited access corridor with three express lanes in each direction, flanked by dedicated high-speed merge and exit lanes in each direction, flanked by dedicated high-speed merge and exit lanes and featuring an elevated 20-mile bicycle and pedestrian path with horizon views of rivers, wetlands and the Cascade Mountain range.

The project would be built in five phases: Phase 1A and 1B, Vancouver to west Portland; Phase 2, west Portland to Beaverton/Hillsboro with tunnel under Forest Park; Phase 3, new 192nd Avenue Bridge to OR I-84; Phase 4, seismic retrofit of I-5 Bridge; Phase 5, Vancouver to I-5/north Clark County via Fruit Valley Road.

One estimate stated that this project could cost as much as $20 billion and take as many as 35 years to complete.

New East County Bridge

The cheapest of the five proposed options, at an estimated cost of $800 million, would be a new East County Bridge, located east of the I-205 Glenn Jackson Bridge.

This project would provide four new traffic highway 12-foot lanes, two northbound and two southbound. The bridge would have wide safety shoulders — 8-foot inside and 10-foot outside in each direction. There would also be two, 12-foot multi-use protected pathways for pedestrian and bicycle experiences.

The bridge would be built with long spans to accommodate river traffic and would provide navigational clearances for Columbia River vessel requirements. It would also have gradual grades for better truck speed and mobility.

Linda Figg, Figg Bridge Builders, displayed a company history of creating an environmentally friendly bridge design with long open spans to touch lightly on the river and context sensitive concrete bridge shapes that “provide beautiful aesthetics.’’

The sustainable, low maintenance concrete bridge would have a 150-year life.

Practical Design Fly-over near I-5

This project would provide four lanes in each direction over I-5, plus new SR 14 ramps in the form of a 2.2-mile bypass of Marine Drive, Hayden Island and the existing I-5 Bridge.

The project would convert the old bridge to local access and replace in the future with an at-grade local access bridge with lift span. It would also move the ship channel to the center of the Columbia River to avoid 95 percent of the bridge lifts.

Victory Blvd. intersection to Mill Plain Blvd. would require little new right-of-way acquisition.

Cost estimates for this project are $1.5 billion.

Tunnel below I-5 corridor

The project would create a 7.8-mile tunnel from Leverich Park in Vancouver to the 1-5/I-405 cuplet in Portland. It would add two lanes in each direction and be a “massive freight mobility improvement, and greatly improved commute times.’’

Highlights included that it would be privately designed, financed, built, owned, operated and maintained through a Modified Private-Public Partnership.

The project would require minimal traffic/community disturbance during construction, minimal environmental impact, minimal right-of-way acquisition and minimal time for construction — three years under construction and total completion in four years.

The existing I-5 Bridge would remain open and be upgraded/improved.

The cost is estimated at $4.5 billion. The proposal includes tolling the tunnel and existing I-5 bridge.

Cascadia Commuter Express/Cascadia High Speed Rail (CHSR)

This project is a portion of a proposed Cascadia High Speed Rail project that would go from Eugene, OR. to Vancouver, B.C.

The portion of this project crossing the Columbia River would be a $1.7-billion cost for a new multi-modal bridge, 1.2-mile tunnel, 11.3 miles of corridor and three auto interchanges. The multi-modal bridge is double-decked west of the existing BNSF Freight Rail Bridge.

The top deck has four lanes for vehicles. The bottom deck has two tracks for freight trains, two tracks for Cascadia Commuter Express/CHSR.

The Cascadia Commuter Express corridor will span from the Rose Quarter Transportation Hub to a platform stop in west Vancouver and a platform stop at 78th Street and Fruit Valley Road in Hazel Dell.

The 11.3-mile Cascadia Commuter Express trains will move 16,000 passengers per hour. Trip time between Portland and Vancouver will take six minutes.

The project would be paid for by a private-public partnership.

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