The gloves are coming off in battle over bridge replacement

Editorial by Ken VanceThank you Rep. Sharon Wylie (D-49th District) for having the courage and conviction to tell the truth.

Ken Vance, Editor
Ken Vance, Editor

For weeks, Clark County’s elected officials have been embroiled in a battle over their divided vision to begin the long process of solving the area’s transportation congestion problems. A majority of lawmakers representing Clark County have had initial success in making the replacement of the I-5 bridge a priority, targeting the need for the creation of a project that will be the first “bite out of the apple’’ on the path to a better commute between Washington and Oregon.

Seven area legislators have co-sponsored bills in the state Senate and House of Representatives that target the I-5 bridge replacement as the priority of efforts to address the transportation congestion problems. Both bills successfully passed floor votes.

Sens. Annette Cleveland (D-49th District), Ann Rivers (R-18th District) and Lynda Wilson (R-17th District) are the local lawmakers who are among the co-sponsors of Senate Bill 5806. Reps. Paul Harris (R-17th District), Monica Stonier (D-49th District), Brandon Vick (R-18th District) and Sharon Wylie (D-49th District) are the local legislators who are among the co-sponsors of the companion House Bill 2095.

Rep. Liz Pike (R-18th District) authored House Bill 1222, which proposed a bi-state coalition to examine the area’s transportation congestion and freight problems. Pike’s bill, also endorsed by Rep. Vicki Kraft (R-17th District), did not make it out of the House Transportation Committee.

Pike and Kraft have been outspoken in their belief that the solution to the area’s transportation congestion should not begin with a replacement of the I-5 bridge. They, and other community leaders, have strongly suggested the efforts of the other lawmakers is just a resurrection of the failed Columbia River Crossing (CRC) project.

Until Wednesday (March 21), the seven lawmakers in favor of prioritizing the I-5 bridge replacement have done everything they could to distance their efforts from the CRC, which is still a sore subject with a majority of Clark County citizens who are angry over the inclusion of light rail in that project and the approximately $200 million spent on the failed effort.

Even though SB 5806 and HB 2095 propose allocating $350,000 to comb through the documented carnage of the CRC, the authors of the bills seemingly went out of their way not to attach the latest effort with the previous one. And, the companion bills took no official stance on the inclusion of light rail into the proposed I-5 bridge replacement.

Several of the Republicans who are supporting the I-5 bridge replacement have stated publicly that they have not changed their opposition to light rail, knowing a majority of their constituents remain opposed to bringing light rail to Clark County. Those Republicans have also taken great effort in ridiculing those who have asserted the current effort is indeed a resurrection of the CRC.

However, in a 49th District Telephone Town Hall conducted Wednesday evening by Wylie, Cleveland and Stonier, Wylie publicly pulled the curtain back on what the latest effort actually is and the lawmaker took a not-so-subtle shot at those who favor the construction of a third or fourth crossing over the Columbia River prior to a replacement of the I-5 bridge.

Our assumption is it (the I-5 bridge replacement) will include a robust mass transit component,’’ Wylie said, seemingly confirming  the legislators’ desire to once again include light rail in their plans. “And, I have to say that you would not believe how many people that sound like they are engineers think they have all the answers. I’ve come to say our job is to prevent our ferret friends from chasing after bright shiny little bridge designs that people come to us with.’’

Wylie didn’t use the words “light rail,’’ but I don’t think anything else qualifies as “a robust mass transit component.’’ I disagree with Wylie’s position on light rail and her opposition to a third or fourth crossing prior to a replacement of the I-5 bridge. All indications are that a majority of Clark County residents do as well. But, I appreciate the fact that we’re not all going to agree and Wylie and her fellow lawmakers have every right to pursue the remedy they feel is best.

What does make me angry, however, is the legislators who have hitched their wagons to Wylie who still try to sell us on their claim that this latest I-5 bridge replacement project isn’t a resurrection of the CRC and won’t include light rail. Those lawmakers are either fatally naive or they’re just not being honest about their own position on the subject.

It’s time for Clark County citizens to hold all the local legislators accountable for their position in this battle. How can they continue to distance themselves from the CRC while supporting a virtually identical I-5 bridge replacement effort? Or, how are they going to overrule their fellow lawmakers when it comes time to ultimately make a decision on the inclusion of light rail in the project?

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About The Author

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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