OLYMPIA — Local legislators expressed varied concerns about the Columbia River Crossing project during an informal meeting Friday.
Rep. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, said she hoped the meeting would be the first of many to get participants “singing off the same sheet.”
However, legislators were singing off a few different sheets, with concerns rising about design and funding for the project.
Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, a who commutes on the bridge himself, claimed the crossing would not solve the congestion problem that he faces daily south of Hayden Island.
“You’re selling this bridge like it’s going to solve the congestion problem and we’re going to be tolling people for it,” Harris said. “My biggest concern is that we’re going to build a nice bridge and congestion is going to get worse.”
Nancy Boyd, the CRC project director, acknowledged that the bridge would not solve all the congestion problems but that did not reduce the need for the project.
“They’re aging bridges so we have to replace this bridge,” Boyd said. “We know that every project is not going to solve an entire corridor of problems but if we don’t start fixing what we know from a risk and vulnerability standpoint of a very old bridge … then do we just stop and do nothing until we can solve the entire corridor?”
Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, expressed different concerns about the project, claiming there is no way two bridges could handle the traffic.
“At the Cowlitz River, there are six bridges … for a population of 100,000 people. We’re talking about metropolitan areas with a population of 2 million and we’re dealing with two bridges, it is absurd,” Orcutt said, expressing the need for more corridors and a third bridge.
“It’s not an easy thing to do, but if it gets traffic out of those corridors those existing on- and offramps will probably work better,” Orcutt said.
Bridge architect Kevin Peterson was invited to present an alternative double-deck design for the bridge with a separate “collector-distributor” roadway underneath for vehicles using exits near the shores. Orcutt expressed interest in Peterson’s plan, saying it “sounded a little more like what needs to happen.”
However, Boyd maintained that Peterson’s design was not possible due to bridge alignment problems and property impacts.
“From a roadway engineering standpoint, we just can’t make some of these things work,” Boyd said.
Funding and tolling continue to be a concern for the project. While Rivers said Interstate 205 would likely be tolled, Paula Hammond, secretary for the Washington State Department of Transportation, denied that tolling on I-205 is possible.
“The diversion to 205 is not much. Folks don’t go to 205 to try and get around I-5 tolling,” Hammond said. “That is not the path that we’re on.”
Orcutt also expressed disapproval of tolling, calling a tolled, five-lane bridge “essentially a parking lot, with a parking fee.”
Rep. Mike Armstrong, R-Wenatchee, said he organized the meeting in hopes to get a clearer vision of what Southwest Washington needs before a revenue package becomes available.
“There will be another revenue package someday and when that happens I want to make sure Southwest Washington is ready to go and they’re not, that’s clear, they’re not yet,” Armstrong said.
Armstrong and Rivers walked away from Friday’s meeting with plans to keep the discussion going.
“I think we really needed to get this discussion going at this level,” Rivers said. “The opinions expressed here today really reflect the issues that surround getting this project done. I think it was a good first step, but we’ll be doing other things in the future.”