Local view: CRC comprehensive solution for region’s woes

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When I came to Vancouver in 1989, Washington State University Vancouver students took classes at Bauer Hall on the Clark College campus. The new Salmon Creek campus officially broke ground five years later, and it hosted its first graduation ceremony in May 1997. Since then WSU Vancouver has grown, serving students and the community and contributing to the growth and quality of life of Vancouver, Clark County and all of Southwestern Washington. It has been an amazing privilege to be at WSU Vancouver through all of these years and to be part of all of this growth.

When we began the process, Southwest Washington was the most underserved area in the state at the time and the need to provide our region with educational opportunities was clear. Our local economy could not thrive without it.

Similarly, a choked and dated transportation system cannot offer our children — many of them graduates of WSUV and other nearby universities — the prospects they are seeking for their families, careers and future. Already, local businesses are inhibiting their operations due to congestion and uncertain trip length and unsafe passage on Interstate 5; commuters and employers are losing valuable time that could be spent more productively; and perhaps most concerning, future business, families and investors are looking to locate elsewhere because our region’s mobility is severely impaired — and it is only going to get worse.

But it’s time to stop admiring the problem and get on with the solution.

The Columbia River Crossing Task Force — a diverse group of 39 community members with often competing priorities — formed in 2005 through its vote in 2008. I co-chaired the task force and can say that it was an impressive and extensive public process that included more than 800 public meetings and thorough and exhaustive debate. That work resulted in consensus on a Locally Preferred Alternative which includes a replacement bridge, light rail extending to Clark College in Vancouver, seven new interchanges, and bike lanes and pedestrian paths.

Foundation of future

Why do I care about the Columbia River Crossing so much? It’s simple. Just as WSU Vancouver brought new opportunities and possibilities to our region, so will the Crossing.

It’s far more than just a freeway or a bridge. The crossing is a comprehensive transportation solution to immediate freight congestion and safety problems, and it addresses the region’s future economic and population growth. It’s crucial to the well-being of the entire region and — as the weakest link in the entire West Coast interstate freeway system — is a national priority as well.

The project promises to provide an economic seed to our fragile and recovering local economy by providing employment for many families. Those jobs will have ripple effects in our community that we desperately need. But it is the longer term opportunity for our region that has moved me to have the farsightedness to support this project — just as I did for WSUV.

It is time to invest in our community’s future. The infrastructure of a community — whether a university campus or a transportation system — that is the foundation of that future.

Hal Dengerink has served as the Chancellor of Washington State University Vancouver from its inception, retiring next month. He also served for several years as co-chair of the Columbia River Crossing Task Force and the CRC Project Sponsors Council.