Pro- and anti-Columbia River Crossing factions showed up Monday to the Clark Public Utilities building, where a congressional committee heard testimony on regional transportation infrastructure issues.
While Chairman John Mica, R-Fla., didn’t want to hear about specific projects, that’s about all the crowd outside wanted to talk about.
The crowd was civil, as people wearing “Build that Bridge” stickers on their lapels stood in line next to people wearing pin-on cutouts that had the words “light rail” behind a circle slash.
Most of the frustration was pointed toward the small room that was chosen for the meeting: About 250 people showed up to fill a room that sat 125 maximum.
“If they can’t hold a meeting, how are they going to build a bridge?” asked Bob Mattila, 70, of Hockinson, who missed gaining entry by about 15 people.
A woman called out to a friend: “I don’t think they realized how many people would come down. This is important!”
Supporters of Build that Bridge had a well-stocked coffee station to fuel members standing on the corner of Fort Vancouver Way and Mill Plain Boulevard, waving neon green signs that said, “Fund CRC” and “Build that Bridge.” The group formed last week to counter David Madore’s political action group NoTolls.com, which had encouraged people to come to Monday’s meeting to speak out against the CRC.
Jim Mains, who is involved with the group, said he counted at least 140 people who showed up for their side. He said they were hoping for 35 originally, but word quickly spread through social networking.
Build that Bridge proponents Nick Ferderer and Trish McConaughy of Vancouver were the first people in line, arriving at 7 a.m. The pro-CRC crowd appeared to outnumber the anti-CRC crowd by 2-to-1, although some people showed no visible allegiance.
Debbie Peterson, a failed legislative candidate who works for Madore, stood with two signs to greet drivers turning into the Clark PUD parking lot — one reading “No Max to Nowhere.”
“I was here late,” Peterson said shortly after 8 a.m. “I didn’t get here until 7:35 a.m.”
Peterson handed out the “no light rail” pins to anyone who would take them: Clark County Commissioner Tom Mielke slowed, and rolled down his window to accept one; but the next driver, Don Wagner, co-director of the Columbia River Crossing Project, drove on by.
Among those who didn’t make it inside was Margaret Tweet of Camas, who has been regularly speaking out against the CRC at county commissioner meetings.
“I’m glad it’s on CVTV, unlike the citizen comments,” Tweet said, referring to a proposal by Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt to turn off the cameras during citizen communications.
Tweet said the turnout should send a message to the Vancouver City Council and county commissioners that the Regional Transportation Commission meetings should be aired on CVTV.
The RTC meets in a room next to the county commissioners’ hearing room at the Public Service Center, and Tweet argued the meetings could just as easily be held in the hearing room, which is wired for CVTV.
“This meeting shows there’s a tremendous amount of public interest,” Tweet said.
Laurel Whitehurst and her partner Don, both of Hazel Dell, ultimately made it into the meeting after standing in the cold wearing hand-painted sandwich boards supporting both light rail and paying a local match for the crossing.
“Our ancestors walked across the nation, you think we could build a bridge across a river,” said Laurel Whitehurst, who commuted across the Columbia to Portland for years.
Just down the line, Pat Anderson of Battle Ground held a sign against the CRC project. She said she’s on a fixed income and wouldn’t be able to go to Portland, like she does now three to four times a week, without hardship.
Ralph Peabody of Vancouver also held a sign, saying, among many things, “NO trolly folly.”
“I think this is a waste of time, the decision’s been made,” said Peabody, who also just missed entry. “This is just for show.”