Lawmakers send letters to Gov. Jay Inslee with thoughts on traffic congestion issues

Ken Vance Editorial

Joint letter nice, but it’s Rep. Vicki Kraft’s letter that contains the best representation of what the voters want

A number of Southwest Washington elected officials shared their thoughts on the I-5 bridge replacement discussion with Gov. Jay Inslee. The question is, will he listen?

First, eight area lawmakers wrote a joint letter to the governor asking him to consider alternatives to light rail as a part of the I-5 bridge replacement project. The letter was signed by U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, Washington state Senators John Braun (20th District), Ann Rivers (18the District) and Lynda Wilson (17th District), Washington state Representatives Richard DeBolt (20th District), Paul Harris (17th District), Ed Orcutt (20th District) and Brandon Vick (18th District). Editor Ken Vance shares two letters penned by area elected officials to Gov. Jay Inslee about traffic congestion issues in Southwest Washington and the I-5 Bridge replacement.
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“Past light rail proposals have been soundly rejected by Clark County residents in multiple county-wide votes,’’ wrote Herrera Beutler on her governmental website.

U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler
U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler

The congresswoman pointed to the governor’s newly-released 2019-2021 budget which includes funding for an I-5 bridge replacement and language that the Washington Department of Transportation “… shall assume any plan for a new bridge will include light rail.”

“We are writing to ask you to help keep mass transit alternatives to light rail on the table during negotiations on any I-5 bridge project over the Columbia River,’’ stated the lawmakers in the letter. “We all agree on the pressing need to address the congestion and safety issues at the current I-5 bridge, and it’s imperative that we all work together on a long-term solution that both sides of the river can support. While we are encouraged that your proposed FY 2019-2021 budget contains funding to restart the planning process for a Columbia River bridge project, we are dismayed to find that the proposal also contains a statement that any new bridge will include light rail, with no consideration of alternative transit options.

The letter cited three occasions when Clark County voters expressed their collective thoughts on light rail in the I-5 corridor.

“The voters of Clark County have had three opportunities to weigh in on light rail, most recently in 2013. Each time, the pro-light rail side of the issue was soundly defeated. We owe it to those we serve to represent their preferences in negotiations over any future I-5 bridge project.

“It’s not just faithful representation that demands we remain open-minded to transit alternatives, it’s also practical politics for those of us who actually want to solve the problems on the I-5 corridor. The Columbia River Crossing project failed in large part due to the insistence of politicians and bureaucrats that the new bridge bring Oregon’s light rail system into Clark County, despite the demonstrated lack of support from the County’s voters. Those who refuse to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

One area lawmaker, Rep. Vicki Kraft (17th District), declined to sign on to the letter. Instead, Kraft provided Gov. Inslee with her own letter. Kraft offered the governor ideas that took the conversation even further. Editor Ken Vance shares two letters penned by area elected officials to Gov. Jay Inslee about traffic congestion issues in Southwest Washington and the I-5 Bridge replacement.
Click to view PDF

I am writing to request that you do not require light rail, light rail capable, or mass transit on any transportation project in Clark County, WA – including the proposed I-5 bridge replacement project,’’ Kraft wrote. “The voters of Clark County have opposed mass transit on the ballot as recently as 2013. Elected officials must listen to and respond in accordance with the voters’ wishes. There is no real demand for mass transit in Clark County as proven by the 2017 C-Tran (Transit Agency) Annual Financial Report, which shows only 10% of their funds come from ridership. Out of the total transit agency’s funding of $66,389,980 — only $6,857,096 was paid by riders. That leaves 90% of the transit agency’s operations being subsidized and paid for mostly by the taxpayers in the form of sales tax, state and federal funds.’’

Not only did Kraft offer a stronger stance on mass transit that her fellow lawmakers, she also asked the governor to focus more on additional capacity in the region prior to an I-5 Bridge replacement project. Again, she focused on the will of the people, not the elected officials.

“Moreover, demand in Washington is still primarily for additional road infrastructure, not mass transit,’’ Kraft wrote. “In June 2018, Pemco Insurance Company had a survey conducted by FBK Research. They surveyed 600 Washington and 600 Oregon residents who were not Pemco Insurance customers. When asked what their preferred method of transportation was to commute to work, 94% said they prefer to drive. They noted it was faster and more convenient than other modes of transportation.

“What is truly needed at this time to reduce traffic congestion on the I-5 corridor in Clark County and the Portland metro region is a 3rd bridge or connector between Southwest Washington and Oregon,’’ Kraft wrote. “I ask you to stop pressing mass transit on our citizens and instead support a 3rd bridge for the benefit of our commuters, freight community, and statewide commerce.’’

Kraft copied the letter to Herrera Beutler and Washington’s U.S. Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell.

I appreciate the fact that the lawmakers’ joint letter asked the governor to consider alternatives to light rail on any I-5 Bridge replacement project. But, it doesn’t go far enough. We need traffic congestion relief before we need to replace the I-5 Bridge. And, as Kraft pointed out in her letter, the overwhelming majority of us don’t want any mass transit on that bridge and we don’t want Oregon officials to be successful in their attempt to change our behavior by getting us out of our cars. It’s our tax money, if we want to pay for additional infrastructure and not for mass transit, that’s our choice.

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