Ports air support for new crossing

Officials want I-5 project to proceed as quickly as possible

By Andrea Damewood, Columbian staff writer

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The three port districts in Clark County have joined together to urge Gov. Chris Gregoire to work as “quickly as possible” to move the Interstate 5 bridge project forward.

In a letter dated July 22, the ports of Vancouver, Camas-Washougal and Ridgefield said the Columbia River Crossing project is essential to keeping their $40 billion in regional freight business moving.

It’s the first time in at least a decade that the three ports have written a joint statement, Port of Vancouver Executive Director Larry Paulson told the Vancouver City Council at its Monday meeting, where he read the letter aloud.

“I have heard numerous complaints from our customers — product gets delayed, and there’s additional cost,” Paulson said Tuesday. “For business, the old saying ‘time is money’ is real.”

Paulson said the letter supporting the bridge project has little to do with the recent uproar created when Mayor Tim Leavitt revised his anti-tolling stance. Numerous citizen speakers also spoke Monday night about their opposition to tolls, the bridge and light rail. Leavitt was absent from the meeting due to personal business.

Paulson said that while the ports aren’t excited about the fee, they will have to “accept some amount of tolls.”

“Customers, particularly those that truck, are already feeling the cost relating to delays on the bridge,” he said.

The planning for a new bridge, which began in earnest in 2004, had consumed $97.8 million as of the end of June.

In the letter, the port commissioners said that more than $40 billion in regional freight passes through the CRC project area annually. They expect that figure to climb to $72 billion by 2030.

“We are in the freight movement business,” Paulson said. “We need to continue to improve our infrastructure to meet our long-term needs.”

Hospital adds support

Another regional player also chimed in with support for the CRC on Monday.

For the second week in a row, someone from the Legacy Health System read a statement to the city council calling for a swift resolution to the bridge planning.

Like the ports, Legacy’s statements did not relate to Leavitt’s stance on tolling. The Portland-based hospital group is asking for the bridge work to happen soon, Legacy Salmon Creek spokesman Brian Willoughby said.

The current congestion makes getting doctors, equipment and patients across I-5 — all time-sensitive issues — impossible to predict, he said.

“If an emergency vehicle needs to get through and the lift is up, or if traffic is congested and there’s no shoulder, the vehicle is delayed” Willoughby said.

He also said Legacy hospitals on both sides of the river see plenty of crash victims from the bridge corridor. He said the crash rates there are two times higher than elsewhere, and during bridge lifts, collisions go up by three to four times.

“Legacy decided as an organization earlier this year that this issue had enough impact on the region that we needed to review it, look at it and take a stand,” Willoughby said.

Andrea Damewood: 360-735-4542 or andrea.damewood@columbian.com.