VANCOUVER — I have had the pleasure of discussing Clark County’s transportation congestion issues on many occasions, in depth, with Rep. Liz Pike (R-Camas, 18th District). I have also attended both of her Transportation Solutions Legislative Town Hall meetings, the second of which was held Saturday at Washington State University Vancouver.
I have great respect for our local legislator, who I find to be one of the most accessible of all elected officials in the area. But, I have shared with Rep. Pike in our recent conversations my frustration with the efforts of our elected officials when it comes to solutions to our traffic issues.
I’m impatient by nature, so it doesn’t surprise me that I want this problem solved yesterday. That is just one of about 100 reasons why I would never make it as an elected official. Lawmakers like Pike are forced to keep nudging each boulder up the legislative hill as they are able, while I prefer they go get a piece of heavy equipment to ram it to the top in one, aggressive motion.
I don’t see anyone from our area working harder than Pike to address our transportation issues. I acknowledge others are working very hard as well. But, I’m tired of talking about proposed solutions. I want decisions to be made so we can get on the long road to a better quality of life.
Pike is more strategic and thorough than I am. She wants to make sure citizens are heard and she also realizes there’s a lot of work to be done by lawmakers on both sides of the Columbia River before we have any projects in place.
“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.’’
Pike also said: “We have to come up with a new way we pay for transportation. That’s the stark reality.’’
I agree with Pike that we need a program with three projects, but it’s impossible to get everyone to agree on that, or which three projects will make up that program. At some point, some brave lawmakers are going to have to make some decisions and put their necks on the chopping block.
Companion bills have been passed in the Washington Senate and House of Representatives making the replacement of the I-5 Bridge a priority. That said, there is no project right now and there is no funding. I’m skeptical that the effort will turn into an actual project anytime soon. It’s too similar to the failed Columbia River Crossing (CRC) and it only deals with the replacement of the bridge and does very little or nothing to address traffic congestion.
We need more crossings over the Columbia River. Anyone who doesn’t believe that is wrong. My next point is more debatable, but I believe we need at least one more crossing before we begin a replacement project on the I-5 Bridge. I don’t want to live here during the construction of an I-5 Bridge replacement if we don’t have another crossing to relieve congestion.
“You don’t increase capacity by building a bridge and tearing down a bridge,’’ said Bill Huyette, who offered a proposal at Pike’s Town Hall meeting to build a new tunnel below the I-5 corridor.
The three projects we need as part of the solution to our transportation issues are (in no particular order):
- An I-5 Bridge replacement
- A new eastside crossing
- A westside crossing, or a new crossing that incorporates the I-5 Bridge replacement with the tunnel or I-5 Flyover proposals
The elected officials who are championing the I-5 Bridge replacement believe it’s the first, and most feasible, bite at the apple because it’s the part of the solution that Oregon will be the most cooperative to partner with. But, Oregon’s interest in the I-5 Bridge replacement, at this point, is less than enthusiastic because they’ve got their own transportation issues and their lawmakers are still bitter over the 2014 vote of Washington’s Senate that killed the CRC. And, Oregon’s interest in the I-5 corridor is contingent on any project including light rail, which Clark County voters have loudly rejected.
The current proposals for a new westside crossing, a tunnel, I-5 Flyover or Cascadia Commuter are projects that would cost billions of dollars and would take many years to complete. I prefer a new westside corridor, but I have to admit there is not a slam dunk proposal on the table right now. Much work still needs to be done on this part of the solution.
I believe the easiest and most obvious first “bite out of the apple’’ is a new East County Bridge. Linda Figg, of Figg Bridge Builders, offered an impressive proposal at Saturday’s town hall for a bridge to be built east of the I-205 Glenn Jackson Bridge at an estimated cost of $800 million, which is dramatically less than any other option.
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. The sustainable, low maintenance concrete bridge would have a 150-year life.
Figg 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.’’
Figg Bridge Builders has won three Presidential Awards through the National Endowment for the Arts. There’s only been five total for bridges, and Figg has won three of those five. The publication Roads & Bridges rated the top 25 bridges ever built, and named six constructed by Figg Bridge Builders in that list of 25.
Let’s put pressure on our lawmakers to create a program for the new eastside crossing and a replacement project for the I-5 Bridge while we continue work to decide what’s the most feasible third component of the program. And let’s tell them we want it done yesterday!