Opinion: Transportation congestion relief won’t come in time for some of us

Testimony at recent Regional Transportation Council meeting doesn’t offer any optimism about solutions for frustrated Clark County drivers

Over the past couple of years, I’ve had many discussions with friends and acquaintances about my frustration with the transportation congestion issues that Clark County residents deal with on a daily basis. I had another one of those discussions Saturday night.

In his testimony at the June 4 Regional Transportation Council meeting, Vancouver resident Ed Barnes said it took 40 years to complete the I-205 corridor and I-205 Bridge. Clark County Councilor Gary Medvigy raised the question at the same meeting how long will it take until there are plans for the next corridor across the Columbia River. Photo by Mike Schultz
In his testimony at the June 4 Regional Transportation Council meeting, Vancouver resident Ed Barnes said it took 40 years to complete the I-205 corridor and I-205 Bridge. Clark County Councilor Gary Medvigy raised the question at the same meeting how long will it take until there are plans for the next corridor across the Columbia River. Photo by Mike Schultz

I had the pleasure of meeting an old friend and fellow Stevenson High School alum for dinner. He’s a long-time journalist, in fact an award-winning investigative reporter who currently works for the Orange County Register. He was in town from the Los Angeles area and he graciously carved out some time during his short stay in the area to meet with me.

Since we were meeting on my home turf, he allowed me to select the location for our dinner. I chose BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse at Jantzen Beach, one of my favorite places to dine. As I drove over the I-5 Bridge and headed for the off ramp to Jantzen Beach, I glanced over to the oncoming northbound traffic and instantly felt guilty for my decision of our meeting destination.

Even though it was just before 6 p.m. on a Saturday evening, and to my knowledge, there were no major events nearby or even at the Rose Quarter, traffic in those northbound lanes was bumper to bumper. I was seated in the restaurant and I texted my friend, who was coming from the Milwaukie area, expecting to hear back that he was running late as a result of the traffic issues. Thankfully, he had chosen a path northbound on I-205 to Highway 14 in Washington and back across the I-5 Bridge to Jantzen Beach. That choice allowed him to be right on time for our dinner.

I graduated from Stevenson High School in 1981, the year before the I-205 Bridge opened. He graduated a few years earlier, but had familiarity with the transportation issues in our history so it was a brief topic for us to discuss. Plus, he graciously reads many of my columns, several of which over the past few years having dealt with our transportation congestion issues.

At some point during our discussion, I repeated a line I’ve used many times before. “We will not see transportation congestion relief in this area in my lifetime.’’ Now, next month, I will turn 56 years of age. I’m relatively healthy, probably healthier than I deserve to be. But, at a recent checkup with my cardiologist, for the first time in my life, I asked her opinion as to my life expectancy. Her response was, “I don’t think you will live to be 90, but I’m comfortable with something in the 70s.’’ Considering the fact that the average life expectancy for someone born in 2016 is 78.6 years, I can’t complain about that estimation.

The issue of transportation congestion relief came up at the June 4 Regional Transportation Council (RTC) meeting. First, during public comments, Camas resident John Ley and Vancouver resident Ed Barnes each addressed the members of the RTC. If you’re not already aware, I will point out that Ley is the loudest citizen proponent of additional transportation corridors in the area and Barnes is the staunchest citizen advocate for the replacement of the I-5 Bridge.

Regional Transportation Council
June 4 meeting
Video courtesy of CVTV

Testimony of interest
01:35 — John Ley, Camas resident
05:05 — Ed Barnes, Vancouver resident
18:28 — Gary Medvigy, Clark County Councilor
19:55 — Dale Robins, RTC Senior Transportation Planner

“Why is it this body can’t have a roundtable discussion about future corridors and bridge crossings?’’ asked Ley. “Your own 2008 RTC Visioning Study highlighted the need for two new transportation corridors 11 years ago. What have you done to move forward towards fulfilling these needs that were identified?’’

After Ley spoke, it was Barnes’ turn.

“I don’t think there’s a person in this room who doesn’t agree that we don’t need a third bridge, a fourth bridge, bridges from the mouth (of the river) in Astoria all the way to the Idaho border, but it takes money to build all those bridges,’’ Barnes said. “I want to remind everybody here that from the time they started the 205 Bridge at Oregon City until the 205 bridge was completed, it took 40 years.

“From the time we started the I-5 Bridge (replacement) process in 1979 … it’s been 40 years since this whole process started (and) we haven’t cut one ribbon, we haven’t dug one piece of dirt,’’ Barnes said. “It’s easy to say, ‘let’s build bridges everywhere we can build them.’ I agree 100 percent to do it, but one of the things you need to remember is it takes both sides of the river to agree to build a bridge. I encourage you to keep your eye on the ball. The I-5 Bridge first. That’s where it’s at.’’

A short time later in the meeting, it was time for RTC Senior Transportation Planner Dale Robins to present the 2018 Congestion Management Process Final Report. In his presentation, Robins showed the members of the RTC board a graphic of Key Regional Strategies. Those strategies included the I-5 Bridge replacement but did not include any mention of a new crossing or corridor over the Columbia River. That prompted a question from Clark County Councilor Gary Medvigy, a member of the RTC board.

“I take Mr. Barnes’ point to heart, that it (an I-5 Bridge replacement) needs to happen, but also what he said that it took 40 years of planning and moving forward to make that (I-205) bridge happen and then relate it to what Mr. Ley was saying and then to your strategy slide,’’ said Medvigy, connecting the dots between each bit of testimony. “If we look to future planning, we’re looking at another 40 years down the road. Today is the day we need to get another corridor as one of your long-term strategies to encompass the future of congestion in this region and add that as a planning guideline, guidepost, a pillar of what we’re doing here — not just in the next year, or the next 5 years, or the next 10 years, but the next 20 years. Hopefully, it won’t take another 40 years to build another corridor. What does it take to add another future corridor of planning, a bullet, to get into our overall arching strategy?’’

Kind of like my recent question for my cardiologist, Medvigy was getting right to the point, right to the heart of the matter if you will.

“Generally, what we have done is we use the Regional Transportation Plan as our goal post,’’ Robins said. “That’s the end of what we look at, which is a 20-year plan. I think a future corridor is probably beyond that 20 years. It’s probably 40 years out. As we have discussed in the past, it’s more of a land use issue that maybe the county needs to tackle. Once the county identifies that corridor, we can then work it into the Regional Transportation Plan in the next 20 years after we’ve gone through that type of process.’’

I don’t know Mr. Robins, but for the time being, I’m going to assume his opinion is an informed one on this subject. Assuming that’s the case, he just validated my relatively long-held belief of not seeing transportation congestion relief in my lifetime. Somehow, having my instincts be validated, in this case, doesn’t feel all that good.

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