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Effort to resurrect Columbia River Crossing no longer ‘thinly veiled’

Ken Vance Editorial Clarkcountytoday.com

Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle among those stating a public effort to replace the Interstate 5 Bridge

VANCOUVER — Camas resident John Ley has spent more hours informing Clark County residents of the facts and background information on our area’s transportation congestion issues than anyone I know.

I’ve had several conversations over the past year with Ley during which he offered me proof that, piece by piece, area elected officials and community leaders were quietly attempting to resurrect the failed Columbia River Crossing (CRC) project. I can’t tell you how many hours Ley has spent in his attempt to reveal that to others.

John Ley
John Ley

On Tuesday, Ley spoke to members of the Clark County Council. The councilors were considering the adoption of a resolution in support of an Interstate 5 Bridge project. Ley pleaded with the councilors to, instead, focus on a new third bridge and the construction of more lanes crossing the Columbia River between Clark County and Oregon.

“The current effort to ‘focus on I-5’ is a thinly veiled attempt to resurrect the CRC,’’ said Ley. “The CRC was nothing more than an effort to bring Portland’s financially bankrupt light rail into Vancouver. An Oregon Supreme Court Justice correctly labeled the CRC ‘a light rail project in search of a bridge.’ You should say ‘no’ to this effort.’’

Despite Ley’s efforts, the council joined the Vancouver City Council and Port of Vancouver and adopted the resolution. As far as the effort to resurrect the CRC, as I told Ley personally several times in recent weeks and months, it’s anything but “thinly veiled.’’ Ley has spent his time proving something that is no longer being denied by those doing exactly what he long ago suggested they were doing.

Earlier this month, Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle was interviewed for a story that appeared on OregonLive.com. Here is a link to that story:

https://www.oregonlive.com/expo/news/erry-2018/09/1a8ca310b43996/washington-tries-to-woo-oregon.html

I give McEnerny-Ogle credit, she didn’t shy away from stating what so many of her fellow elected officials haven’t been willing to say publicly. Not only did Vancouver’s mayor admit to the effort to resurrect the CRC, she said Washington lawmakers owed their Oregon counterparts an apology for killing the CRC in July 2013.

Anne McEnerny-Ogle, Vancouver Mayor
Anne McEnerny-Ogle, Vancouver Mayor

“Bless their hearts,’’ McEnerny-Ogle was quoted in the OregonLive.com story, referring to Oregon lawmakers. “I absolutely understand that we screwed them over big time with what happened.’’

The story went on to report that McEnerny-Ogle “doesn’t mind being that voice,’’ referring to her taking a lead role in offering an apology to Oregon leaders for the death of the CRC.

After reading the story, I reached out to McEnerny-Ogle. The first thing I asked was if she was quoted accurately by the OregonLive.com reporter and if she was happy with the message the story conveyed.

“Sorry, I haven’t had time to read the article on Oregon Live,’’ McEnerny-Ogle wrote to me in her email reply. “The (I-5) bridge replacement project needs to get started. We’re only asking for the conversation to get started.’’

I also asked the mayor how urgent does she feel the replacement of the I-5 Bridge is in comparison for the need for additional lane capacity or an additional corridor? I also asked if she thought an I-5 Bridge replacement would improve our traffic congestion issues?

“We need to improve this corridor before starting the expense of another corridor,’’ she replied. “With transit and a dedicated guideway, I do believe congestion can improve.’’

Finally, I asked McEnerny-Ogle how she balances the inclusion of light rail in an I-5 Bridge replacement project when there has been such outspoken opposition to it from Clark County residents?

“We’re not talking about light rail, Ken,’’ McEnerny-Ogle replied. “We’re talking about starting a conversation. That conversation can be about all sorts of high capacity transit in a dedicated guideway. Our BRT (C-TRAN’s Bus Rapid Transit) is pretty exciting!’’

I refer back to Ley’s comments Tuesday to the County Council. McEnerny-Ogle is currently serving as chair of the Southwest Washington Regional Transportation Council (RTC). In the current RTC deliberations over its 2035 plan, light rail is included from Portland to Vancouver.

As Ley stated: “our own RTC has a light rail extension to Vancouver in their 2035 plan. Portland Metro’s JPACT has a light rail extension and a new bridge in their 2040 plan. Furthermore, Metro’s plan shows $3.17 billion for a new replacement Interstate bridge; $850 million for a light rail extension, and $80 million for a new bridge from the Expo Center to Hayden Island. That’s $4.1 billion. And, of course, they expect southwest Washington citizens to help pay for all this via tolls.”

So, that begs the question, how can the chair of the RTC say this is not about light rail?

Despite our differences of opinion, I felt good about my conversation with the mayor and I also feel good that she wants to have more conversations with folks far more critical to the process than myself.

Those of you who read my thoughts in this space on a regular basis already know my stance. I believe that eventually we will need to replace the I-5 Bridge, but I desperately want to see a third bridge built before that happens. More and more, it’s obvious to me that myself and the elected officials who share that view are in the minority. We are fighting an uphill battle. The discussion at Tuesday’s Clark County Council meeting confirms that.

I am optimistic that even though the Clark County councilors adopted their resolution in support of making the I-5 Bridge replacement the priority, many of the councilors also expressed support for a third bridge or additional lane capacity. They just simply disagree with me and folks like John Ley when it comes to the order of two separate projects.

I spoke with Rep. Ed Orcutt (Republican, Kalama) earlier this year. Orcutt is a ranking member of the House of Representatives’ transportation committee. At the time, Orcutt said he was in favor of a joint project that provided for the replacement of the I-5 Bridge AND the construction of a third bridge. That sounded perfect to me, but there’s no indication Orcutt or others have been able to build any momentum for an effort like that.

So, it appears we’re left to have conversations about either an I-5 Bridge replacement project or a third bridge, and there’s no question one of those conversations is a lot farther down the road than the other.

I could likely live with our side losing out on the battle for priority if it weren’t for a few factors. First , traffic will be a nightmare for the multiple years it will take to replace the I-5 Bridge. Clark County Councilor Jeanne Stewart said Tuesday it would be “misery.’’ Second, I don’t want light rail as part of the project but more and more elected officials continue to state that some form of high capacity transit is needed to obtain federal funding. If that means a dedicated lane for C-TRAN’s Bus Rapid Transit, I could live with that. But, no light rail and no tolls!

Perhaps the biggest reason to oppose making the I-5 Bridge replacement the first bite at the transportation apple is, just as it did in 2013, I believe there is enough opposition that it will fail again and then where will we be? Right back to where we are right now and where we’ve been since the construction of the Glenn L. Jackson Memorial Bridge on I-205.

Council Chair Marc Boldt said at Tuesday’s meeting that he recalls that land acquisition had started in 1959 for the I-205 Bridge, which wasn’t opened until 1982. We’re just beginning new conversations about an I-5 Bridge replacement and we are virtually nowhere when it comes to an effort to build a third bridge.

I just turned 55 years old this summer. I’m seriously beginning to believe that we will not see significant traffic congestion relief in this area in my lifetime, despite the efforts of folks like John Ley.

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About The Author

Ken Vance, Editor

Ken Vance got his start in the newspaper industry in 1987 as a reporter at The Columbian Newspaper in Vancouver. Vance graduated from Stevenson High School in Stevenson, WA, and attended Clark College in Vancouver. He worked for The Columbian from 1987-2001. He was most recently a staff member of The Reflector Newspaper in Battle Ground, where he served as editor since 2010 and reporter since 2007. Vance’s work in the newspaper industry has won him multiple awards, including a first place award from the Society of Professional Journalists for in-depth reporting.

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