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Leaders meet with governor to discuss local transportation needs

Ridgefield’s rail overpass, other projects waiting on funds from Olympia

Washington State’s 64th Legislature is underway in Olympia and, if a transportation package without Southwest Washington’s needs passes, projects like the Port of Ridgefield’s Rail Overpass could sit unfunded for the next 12 years.

“Ridgefield has a phenomenal development project in play and the last missing link for them to connect the port with I-5 is a bridge that will go over the railroad tracks,” said Kelly Love, CEO of the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce.

Brent Grening, CEO of the Port of Ridgefield is still looking on the bright side. He believes the city is poised to expand, but it will take the final piece in a project that currently sits at two-thirds complete. Phase one and two, the eastern and western approaches, will connect with the key span – an overpass to divert traffic from at-grade clearance (allowing for greater safety and less interruption) moving people and commerce above up to 80 trains each day on a stretch of the Burlington Northern main rail line.

To date, the city of Ridgefield has spent more than $80 million to clean up the waterfront area and this final phase could capitalize on that investment and create “hundreds of jobs in downtown Ridgefield,” according to Grening.

“If there’s not a package we’ll continue to work so we’re ready and in a package when it does work. [We’ll] continue to try for other grants. We’ll just keep going and keep working to raise the funds necessary to build,” Grening said.

It was for Ridgefield’s project and many others across Clark County that a small delegation of Vancouver area economic leaders ventured to Olympia in early January to bend the ear of Governor Inslee when it was realized that 87 percent of his package was allocated to Puget Sound with nothing for Southwest Washington.

“[We] went up with a list of some good projects – in Battle Ground, Ridgefield, Camas, Vancouver – that should be considered for inclusion to the Governor’s package and the Governor gave us 30 minutes of his time that we greatly appreciated,” said Love, a member of the delegation.

Governor Inslee shared with the local delegation that the area is a large, under-served region that will be unable to support incoming families and businesses if the highway system is left unaddressed.

With revenue forecasts up, Love is confident that Southwest Washington’s transportation requests will be considered, but she’s unsure if the Governor’s package will be. Coming out of an extended economic downturn, so many important topics (like education) have been tabled that funding all pressing issues simultaneously could prove challenging.

Why the snub in the first place? Love places a lot of the blame squarely on the defunct Columbia River Crossing (CRC) project.

“The package that Republicans put out last year had nothing for Southwest Washington and we have good projects down here,” she said. “Because we’d put the CRC up there and it died, we ended up with nothing (and it felt) like a punishment.”

Love reiterated that the transportation package is a 12-year investment package, so it’s crucial for residents and businesses to have input.

Meanwhile, Senator Ann Rivers is optimistic about an inclusion of Southwest Washington’s transportation needs.

“I think there will be a package,” said Rivers. “[I support a] rail overpass at the Ridgefield Port, the 179th Street overpass improvement, an extension of NE 10th (Street) over Whipple Creek, (the) SR-502/503 intersection update (and the) economic development project in Camas.”

Outdated infrastructure can hinder progress. Love explained that cargo – such as massive wind turbines – is coming out of the Port of Vancouver that can’t be transported onto I-5 via the 4th Plain or Mill Plain interchanges due to the narrow configurations. As a result, these loads go through downtown Vancouver.

“It’s the only way they can make the cut and we don’t want cargo going down Washington Street,” Love said.

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