Washington legislator expresses concerns about proposed I-5 Bridge replacement project

Rep. Brandon Vick
Rep. Brandon Vick

Rep. Brandon Vick says he and others ‘have some very serious concerns about where we are’

Another member of the Bi-state Legislative Committee that advises Interstate Bridge Replacement Program (IBR) Administrator Greg Johnson on the proposed replacement of the I-5 Bridge has expressed stern objections to the project.

In recent months, Sen. Lynda Wilson (17th District) has often been the loudest voice among the 16 members of the committee of legislators, expressing concerns over the IBR team’s Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA). Sen. Paul Harris (49th District) told Clark County Today he also still has questions. Last week, Rep. Brandon Vick (18th District) added his opposition during the regularly scheduled meeting of the eight lawmakers from Washington and eight from Oregon.

“To get to this point, it’s been a lot of work,’’ Vick said. “I have also been asked to speak on behalf of some of my colleagues, and maybe they’ll speak as well, about the fact that we’re here and we’re not walking away. But, we also have some very serious concerns about where we are.

“I might have shown my hand a little bit earlier, but we talked about partners, and it’s very obvious that this locally preferred alternative is written by the partners, because as a body, we didn’t take any of these votes,’’ Vick said. “I hesitate to use that word, because as we noted, there’s no skin in the game, at least not financial skin.’’

Vick went on to say that “we have good neighbors,’’ referring to the IBR team and its partners participating in the planning of the bridge replacement. “We should be working with them. But, this is not our LPA and we’re the ones spending the money representing the constituents and we’re going to have to answer for this at the end of the day.’’

Vick was first elected to the Washington State House of Representatives in 2012. In addition to serving in the legislature, Vick has also worked in Clark County in the private sector.

“Having spent my life in the business world, it just kind of seems like we’re doing things backwards,’’ Vick said. “We’re going to have to make a vote as to how much to spend and when to spend it. And, if we move forward with this exact plan, I’m not confident I can go back to my constituents and tell them why we’re pursuing X,Y and Z. I don’t know why we’re pursuing light rail (over C-TRAN’s Bus Rapid Transit). I don’t know why we’re pursuing one auxiliary lane. We’re taking the vote and then we’re going to study it. And then we’re going to have to go back and say, ‘well, looks like we were right, it looks like we were wrong.’ 

“If this were a perfect world, I would say we’d hire a couple of design-build firms, give them our list of requirements and say, ‘give us the science-based answers to these problems,’’ Vick said. “Give us a good, better, best and we’ll pick the one that fits best for our constituents in our budget, but we’re not there. We’re putting together a political list of ideas and we’re going to try and weave a bridge around them rather than give us the best options and let us choose. That’s just troubling to me for a whole host of reasons.’’

Vick went on to explain that one of the issues that is most troubling to him is variable rate tolling, which he believes reveals the effort by some to get commuters out of their cars.

“A few specific things that are very troubling is variable rate tolling,’’ Vick said. “I understand it exists. I understand it’s used in other places. While it’s not actually criminal, I think it’s criminal. The point of variable rate tolling is to get people off of the bridge, because it’s too expensive for them to use it. And that’s how they control traffic. That’s not the right thing to do with a public asset, especially one as vital as I-5.’’

Vick expressed the need for more study on Bus On Shoulder and Bus Rapid Transit options, “because if those work, why not use the most cost-effective solution? … I do feel that a broader look is going to be more beneficial to our constituents than a targeted look.’’ 

Administrator Johnson has spent the past month getting buy-in from the “partners’’ to the I-5 Bridge replacement project and the LPA, which calls for just three through lanes in each direction and proposes a bridge height of 116 feet, substantially lower than the 178 feet in height deemed necessary by the U.S. Coast Guard. 

The Vancouver City Council unanimously approved a resolution offering its support and a majority of the board members of C-TRAN and the Southwest Washington Regional Transportation Council also voted in support of the LPA.

Vick expressed concern that the project will get too far down its path to final approval that there won’t be an opportunity to make changes.

“Where’s our opportunity to make changes?’’ Vick asked. “Where’s our opportunity to add that second auxiliary lane? Where’s our opportunity to roll back on light rail? Where’s our opportunity to make a difference, if all of a sudden the stars have aligned, and so those are my concerns. I believe they represent the concerns of others. Again, the process should keep moving forward. But, I really hope that when it comes time to vote, to appropriate money, to do some of these things, that the folks making those decisions are the ones who are heard, maybe a little louder.’’

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  1. Susan

    Finally, a breath of hope that there is, indeed, some sanity amongst those on the IBR panel.

    And it is so nice, and APPRECIATED, that elected officials are willing to state, in so many words, “we work for the people” and “we are here to represent our constituents.”

    Wilson, Harris, and Vick… keep it up! Don’t drink Oregon’s and Johnson’s kool-aid!

    Guaranteed… Oregon is in it to screw Washington residents. Oregon will do anything they can to make Wash. commuters pay for Oregon highways, bridges, and infrastructure. They’ve got their foot in the door now with Oregon income tax, and are working on taxing sections of I-205 (which we’ve all already paid for with our Fed. tax dollars). So why wouldn’t they turn the screws a bit tighter to get Wash. commuters to pay for their choo-choo and to make you pay extra if you need to drive to/from work during busy times?

    Remember – and it’s not just me dreaming – that a choo-choo is NOT a requirement to build a new bridge! It is a requirement for there to be a rapid transit system of some sort. And Rep. Vick is absolutely correct when he says that bus transit and bus-on-shoulder need to be more closely looked at. The choo-choo is simply outrageously expensive; buses are far cheaper and far more flexible with their routing.

    Everyone… do not drink Oregon’s and Johnson’s kool-aid! Their goal is to ramrod their Oregon pipe-dreams down the throats of Washington residents.

  2. Margaret

    This past several years there were bus only transit options considered for an I-5 bridge. economical public transit alternatives including buses were discussed , yet not voted upon by the “partners”. Then suddenly the there were no alternatives to select from that did not include light rail. There was only 1 alternative presented, and it includes light rail, 3 thru lanes, and 1 aux lane.

    This July alone, a man was shot and killed on a MAX platform, and a woman killed near a MAX platform.
    Crime has always been a top concern about the MAX light rail lines since they opened. Is light rail truly the “locally preferred” transit option when given the facts about the costs?

    Citizens should be aware of where candidates stand on the issue of spending $ 1.3 BILLION for light rail when casting their vote for the Tuesday Aug. 2 primary election. If a candidate fails to include any information about affordable public transit alternatives such as buses, they may be willing to vote for the most expensive and least practical transit option, light rail, leaving taxpayers and tolls to cover the high costs. Meanwhile, riders often board the MAX light rail for free in Oregon.

    Thank You Clark County Today for allowing citizen contributions and covering transit alternatives. See my recap , with links to informative Clark County Today articles.
    Public transit buses and vans superior to costly light rail for I-5 Bridge replacement

  3. Mary

    Why is there no discussion for a third bridge? It solves the traffic problem and is seriously cheaper. Remember K.I.S.S. Keep It Simple Stupid. That is not meant to call anyone stupid. It is meant as stop over thinking and trying to put a square peg in a round hole.

    1. John Ley

      Mary —

      County councilor Gary Medvigy has been trying to get the Regional Transportation Council (RTC) to discuss and then begin planning for a 3rd bridge and transportation corridor ever since he became an RTC Board member.

      Several citizens have pushed for a 3rd bridge in remarks to the various IBR committees. (The Executive Steering Group, the Community Advisory Group, and the Bi-state Bridge Committee of 16 legislators). Greg Johnson, the administrator of the IBR, has said he is not allowed to discuss anything “outside” the 5-mile bridge influence area.

      #1 — he and his team could have recommended expanding the 5-mile bridge influence area to a broader area, allowing the IBR team to study additional options, including a 3rd bridge west of I-5.

      #2 — NONE of the 16 legislators on the Bi-state Bridge Committee have pushed for nor demanded, a 3rd bridge be proposed. They instead allow the entire conversation to focus on “replacing” the current Interstate Bridge. They could have pushed for a seismic upgrade to the Interstate Bridge and then building a new bridge alongside the current two bridge structures. That could have been a new “express lane” to handle through traffic, while “local” traffic could use the current two bridges.

      #3 — the RTC produced a wonderful study back in 2008. The “Visioning Study” evaluated Clark County growth when population north of the Columbia River. They reported that TWO new bridges would be needed, one west of I-5 and one east of I-205. Sadly, politicians have refused to ACT on that proposal over the past 14 years. Clark County population is now over 500,000 people and the Vancouver & Portland special interests refuse to discuss a 3rd bridge.

      This entire project is nothing more than creating a pathway for MAX light rail to come into Clark County.

      TriMet is now demanding NEW TAXES to pay for the light rail extension into Clark County. Furthermore, they are refusing to pay for the operations and maintenance costs of the MAX light rail trains, once they enter Clark County.

      That is one more “outrageous demand” by TriMet and Portland politicians.

    2. Richard L Bullington

      Mary, the reason is that Oregon will not agree to it, and they own the place (in Oregon) where it would land. They have a point; the new bridge that everyone wants — Camas to Troutdale — would just dump two more lanes of traffic into the already egregiously overused Banfield. There’s nowhere west of Kelly Point that a bridge could cross the river to Woodland. Every yard of the river between those two points has agricultural district or wildlife protections on one bank or the other, in many places both.

      You can’t put a bridge between I-5 and I-205 because the airport is in the way.

      So the only place you could put one is between I-5 and Kelly Point, and, really, what does that gain you? Either you have to drive a freeway past Vancouver Lake and across the plateau west of the Fairgrounds or turn Mill Plain into much more of a freeway than it is already to get to a bridge over that way.

      Oregon might agree to such an alignment, but I seriously doubt that the City of Vancouver and the Port would.

      The right thing to do is the build the I-5 replacement AND the Northwest Connector from its southern interchange to Cornelius Pass and the Sunset. And run C-Tran buses to several points in Washington County on it.

  4. Drew

    I’ve had a lot of difficulty understanding Vancouver’s deep-rooted opposition to the light rail component (hence why I found this recent article and news outlet Googling around) – and that’s despite the fact that I’m in a rural area south of Portland outside TriMet. I have to drive everywhere and don’t directly benefit from the light rail lines that already exist. Fat chance it will ever make sense for myself to personally take a train or even a bus, and I’ve had the misfortune of taking regular trips over the I-5 and I-205 crossings (though Vancouver itself has gotten much prettier in recent years – especially downtown!).

    However, I’ve got no issue adding light rail to the bridge – Oregon is willing to pay its fair share and so long as service is regular I don’t see why it wouldn’t get used. There would be less drivers/busses for me to battle for space with, so why wouldn’t I want this? The cost is going to be high no matter what, so you may as well build it to move people across the river as efficiently as possible.

    I also don’t buy the crime & safety argument because the data just doesn’t back that up. You’re far more likely to straight up die in a car crash than be shot, stabbed, or get run over taking the MAX, despite the scary stories from half a decade ago that get re-told over and over again. It’s not even worth talking about when compared to the existing dangers of using cars, yet people still drive.

    And then there’s dedicated bus lane argument for the C-TRAN… it seems like a half-measure to me? I definitely still want to see them built but why are people arguing that they can replace a dedicated light rail train? The bus is still going to get caught in traffic the second the C-TRAN bus makes an exit or re-merges with regular roads, and holds less passengers for the cost. The bridge is a major choke point which people have to cross no matter what kind of transit they can afford, so it makes sense to have both cars, trains, and busses – if only so you have the permanent infrastructure capacity to expand the transit later as a relief valve. Heck, the rail line doesn’t even have to really go anywhere but downtown Vancouver on the other side.

    I understand most people in Vancouver drive – but that’s also because Vancouver makes moving around by transit hard. Portland is (as much as it can be), kind of the opposite. It’s relatively easy to get around cheaply if you don’t use a car, which is what the transit tax pays for. Even I benefit from it despite not really using it, because I have fewer drivers to compete with. If you allow Portland transit folks to get across the river cheaply and more easily by rail, you prevent a heck of a lot of Portlanders from clogging up your bridge for no reason.

    1. John Ley

      Drew —

      Some relevant facts.

      #1 — the Yellow Line MAX trains only travel 14 mph. That’s because there is a stop every mile as it goes from the Expo Center to Lloyd Center. Who wants to travel that slow?

      #2 — TriMet can only put 2 light rail cars on a train. That is because of the small length of a downtown Portland city block. Adding a 3rd train car blocks intersections in downtown Portland, every time it stops. That is the #1 flaw of Portland’s light rail.

      With only two cars in a train, that means each train has a maximum capacity of about 260 people. TriMet currently is only able to schedule 4 trains an hour, meaning the Yellow Line can only carry just over 1,000 people an hour. And “if” 1,000 people board in Vancouver, there is no space for any north Portland residents. It makes zero sense.

      The MAX trains can only offer seats to about 40 percent of their passengers. That means 60 percent must stand while traveling 14 mph. Contrast that with C-Tran’s Bus Rapid Transit buses that offers seating to 60 percent of their full capacity passengers. Which would you prefer — standing up or sitting down?

      The C-Tran “express” buses travel between 25 and 30 mph on their trip to downtown Portland. If they were allowed to use shoulders in Oregon, they would travel even faster.

      #3 — the second fatal “flaw” in TriMet’s system is the Steel Bridge over the Willamette River. It is older than the original Interstate Bridge. TriMet requires all MAX trains to slow to 10-15 mph to cross the Steel Bridge, for safety reasons. As a result, during rush hour, there is one slow-moving MAX train crossing the Steel Bridge every 90 seconds. There simply is no room to add more trains. There is often a “traffic jam” during rush hour as MAX trains wait for an opening to cross the Steel Bridge.

      #4 — the capital cost of the 3-mile MAX extension on a replacement bridge has been revealed to be up to $1.3 billion. That is $430 million per mile. Contrast that with C-Tran who is currently building it’s second Bus Rapid Transit line (about 7 miles long) for $50 million. That is just under 4% of the cost of light rail.
      Furthermore, the BRT buses can travel from all over Clark County and to any desired Portland destination. The light rail can only travel where the tracks are laid down.

      #5 — The operating costs per boarding rider of MAX light rail are presently substantially HIGHER than the operating costs per boarding rider of C-Tran’s BRT. The MAX cost per rider is presently over $9 whereas the C-Tran BRT cost per rider was reported at $5.44 earlier this year.

      #6 — there is NO DEMAND for any “high capacity” transit across the Columbia River. C-Tran offers the only cross river transit service. They had 7 “express” bus lines into Portland, using both the Interstate Bridge and the Glenn Jackson Bridge. Ridership has been declining for close to a decade, from just over 3,000 daily boardings to now less than 1,000. That is a rounding error on the 140,000 vehicles that use the Interstate Bridge (and another 160,000 on I-205).

      Simply put. The last time the Portland metro area built a new transportation corridor was 40 years ago. I-205 opened in Dec. 1982. Regional population has doubled from 1.3 million to 2.6 million. With no new vehicle capacity, of course traffic congestion has become a nightmare.

      The only real solution is more vehicle capacity. And since Portland does not want more vehicles on I-5 coming into the inner core, the logical solution to traffic congestion is to build a new “bypass” allowing vehicles to go around the downtown inner core.

      How is that for a start?

    2. Amanda Blake

      Sounds like you would like everyone else to use light rail so you have less traffic to deal with. Wouldn’t many others. Having lived in the Portland area the greater part of my life, I can tell you MAX is not safe, it is not efficient, in increment weather they break down, leave people stranded. Tri-met’s focus in expanding areas, but put little into it. If it were free, I wouldn;t ride it and it does not work for me or many that I know. I was left stranded in Gateway and needed to get to airport. Had to call Uber, I was downtown and MAX broke down near lloyd center when a Blazer game let out. 3 hours in pouring rain while they kept saying a bus would pick us up, had to take Uber to get to my car at Gateway. Now I would never park anywhere near Gateway between shootings and car theft. Do you need more. Suggest you do some research! NO Light Rail in Vancouver. Thank you


    We can put Light Rail Next to the Train Bridge, the train bridge will need to be replaced anyway. Take light rail or train from Portland to Vancouver on to The WORLD CUP IN SEATTLE.
    Build a 180 foot Bridge for the Coast Guard approval and The Vancouver Ports that
    transport Wind Turbines for Solar energy.
    I am against tolls on a FREEway. I prefer a use tax. I feel more people will work remotely in the future.
    Let’s use the same plans for the 192nd Avenue Bridge. (no light rail) and just start building it first.

    1. Richard L Bullington

      There’s no “we” in “Let’s” when you talk about a 192nd Avenue Bridge. Oregon categorically rejects the idea; it would just dump two more lanes of traffic into the already overburdened Banfield. It will never be allowed.


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