Letter: ‘Do you want what’s happened to the city of Portland to happen in Clark County?’

Washougal resident Mike Johnson discusses the transportation issues residents of Southwest Washington are facing.
File photo

Washougal resident Mike Johnson discusses the transportation issues residents of Southwest Washington are facing

Editor’s note: Opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are those of the author alone and do not reflect the editorial position of ClarkCountyToday.com

I was born and raised in Portland and moved to Clark County in 2012. We relocated to Washougal to escape the deterioration in Portland city neighborhoods. One component of that deterioration was the traffic gridlock caused primarily by the termination of several planned road and highway expansion projects. Added to that was an obvious increase in potholes and poor road quality.

As highway projects were terminated, mass transportation projects throughout the greater Portland area were expanded into neighborhoods. As homelessness, drug abuse and crime proliferated, our neighborhoods became unclean and unsafe. Fare enforcement on MAX trains is practically non-existent, allowing drug addicts and the homeless to essentially live in the cars or close to these rail lines.

Recently, there have been multiple assaults and murders on or near transit stops, especially MAX light rail stations. Transit ridership has been in decline, even before the pandemic. This is a nationwide trend.

The last time the metro area added significant vehicle capacity was the I-205 corridor, over 40 years ago. Since then, politicians have engaged in a “war on cars,” killing the addition of new vehicle capacity and the creation of new transportation corridors.

Some of the terminated projects that accompanied the expansion of light rail are as follows:

1. The Mt Hood Freeway (off the top deck of the Marquam Bridge heading east). The eminent domain right of way purchases were almost complete down Division Street, the Ivon Street corridor for the new freeway, when the project was terminated. The State right of way section had to resell all of that property back to the public sector. 

2. The St. Helens Highway extension  (Therman Vaughn Corridor)  planned to extend off the upper deck of the Fremont Bridge was designed, engineered, then terminated. This project would have greatly improved traffic out of the city all the way to Saint Helens.

3. A bypass beltway was planned to take traffic off highway 26 (west side) from 181st (Rock Creek), over the west hills, then reconnect with I-5 north of Vancouver. That project would have included two bridges (one over the slough and one over the Columbia). The project was planned to be completed by 1990 but was killed by politicians supporting the “no more freeways” mindset. 

4. The I-84 expansion from 122nd to 181st (Troutdale) and Gresham bypass was completed out to 181st, but the Gresham bypass was terminated. I lost a nice piece of property to eminent domain acquisitions for the new 207th St.  overpass off of I-84. The bypass was needed to relieve traffic on three arterials Sandy Blvd, Burnside, and Glisan. and reconnect with Hwy. 26 east of Gresham. The bypass was never completed. 

It was always my opinion that the expansion of mass transit was the long term reason for the termination of these road projects. When Neil Goldschmidt was named Transportation Secretary under President Carter, my suspicions were confirmed. 

One of the big hang ups for the third bridge idea promulgated by then-Clark County Commissioner David Madore was that it didn’t tie into the MAX light rail system.  But the I-84 expansion to 181st made for a natural tie-in to Madore’s east county bridge proposal. The Gresham Bypass was intended to relieve congestion at the I-205 interchange with I-84 and on multiple SE Portland arterials. The East County Bridge would relieve I-205 traffic congestion at the Portland airport and would have been a natural bypass over the river.  

In the interim we have seen a massive expansion of mass transit across all the major cities in the U.S. including Portland, as the “planned” deterioration of our transportation infrastructure has accelerated. Yet transit ridership continues to decline, in spite of record levels of federal and state spending.

The termination of highway improvement projects has been largely responsible for the traffic nightmare that is the city of Portland today. The metro area has the 12th worst traffic congestion in the nation. This is not to mention the downtown TriMet mall that has choked streets in the city’s core since the mid 70’s.

We have a new boondoggle concurrent with a second attempt at providing a replacement bridge connecting Oregon and Washington. The last one (Columbia River Crossing) wasted over $200 million. It was terminated for a host of reasons, including it was too low, it had tolls, and included MAX light rail. 

The states of Oregon and Washington are at it again. They want to build a $7.5 billion bridge to include $2 billion for a 3-mile MAX extension into Vancouver. The project is demanding tolls to help pay for the outrageously high price tag.

There is a man running for the legislature from LD18 that is very familiar with the failed CRC and plans for the new bridge. He is also aware of what mass transit has done to the city of Portland. Many of your readers are familiar with the amazing transportation articles authored by John Ley. 

John has been active in Clark County civics for many years and knows the ins and outs with respect to Washington state transportation issues. I’ve listened to him speak on this topic and he knows what he’s talking about. 

My question to you, simply stated is this; do you want what’s happened to the city of Portland to happen in Clark County? Well if you do, then by all means support the inclusion of MAX light rail on the new I-5 bridge. 

If you don’t, then read the numerous transportation articles on Clark County Today and support John Ley in his effort to represent the people in the state legislature. We need someone who will fight to reduce traffic congestion and responsibly spend transportation dollars.

Mike Johnson

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