Transportation package needs new I-5 crossing included

Bob Schaefer

Let’s be brutally honest about these alternative I-5 bridge concepts being floated by some of our local legislators. There is no reasonable plan that hasn’t likely already been examined and discarded. Even if we found one we preferred, it would take an unacceptably long period to get approved and implemented. Any major change to the approved, proposed CRC structure will require the same lengthy permitting process that has taken place over the past 12 years; more time, new money.

Who will feel the impact of delay or if nothing is done? Most likely, you will. I-5 is the only north-south interstate highway west of the Cascade Mountains. It carries freight between the Mexican and Canadian borders with intermediate commercial hubs in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle. Closer to home, some 60,000 people travel from Clark County to work in Oregon each day, another 12,000 people come from Oregon to Clark County each day for work.

Meanwhile, average weekday crossings of our Columbia River bridges (Glenn Jackson-205 and the I-5 Bridge) are at the highest levels since the figures used in the CRC planning were recorded, according to the Regional Transportation Council (284,327 in 2014 vs. 278,530 in 2005) and they are growing. The more than 300 accidents a year along the bridge corridor are extremely difficult for emergency vehicles to reach.

We once had a federal mass transit bridge package of $850 million, and an approval by Oregon state of another $450 million. So where was Washington state when it came time to approve its share of the funding? Washington’s Senate would not even bring up for a vote that which had been agreed to in the final permitting process. Some of our local legislators led the sabotage effort.

We can’t expect the federal government nor the state of Oregon to do anything until Washington state proves to them that they are willing to stand behind and support something that has gone through the process and been approved by all parties. It seems other than Senator Cleveland, Rep. Moeller and a few other political and business leaders, everyone else has given up on having a new I-5 Bridge in the foreseeable future. They apparently want to start the process all over again because that is exactly what is being proposed with these alternatives.

The negative economic impact of not moving ahead with our existing location will be enormous. We are letting a few no-growth political and business leaders who don’t want our community to be part of the metro area, dictate to the majority. They have no idea how doing nothing now or proposing a different location and structure at this late date will impact those who rely on our transportation system. They don’t want to see it changed to be more of the metro area which has and will continue to be the backbone of our economy.

Senator Cleveland has proposed an amendment that would restart the existing proposal with appropriate process and safeguards. The amendment would direct the Washington State Transportation Commission to initiate a collaborative process to reach agreement on the replacement of the I-5 Bridge. It would establish a committee that would include local and state government officials representing districts whose residents regularly use the bridge in both Oregon and Washington, and include other appropriate stakeholders. This amendment could be attached to a transportation bill this session.

We all understand that we either move forward with the infrastructure that is needed to sustain our growth and economy or we let the community move in the opposite direction, because it is not going to stay as it is.

Which way do you want to go?

Robert Schaefer is a former speaker of the Washington Legislature and practicing local attorney.

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