A majority of the Vancouver City Council voiced support Monday night for the Columbia River Crossing’s draft Final Environmental Impact Statement.
The federal government will use the document to approve the five-mile Columbia River Crossing project. The draft will go before all agencies involved in the project for approval.
The Vancouver City Council will not vote on the document but reviewed it during a presentation Monday because several council members sit on the Southwest Washington Regional Transportation Council and C-Tran board, both of which will vote to approve the document in the coming weeks.
By the end of a two-hour workshop, most council members supported approval of the document and agreed it adequately addressed the environmental impacts of the new crossing. No formal action was taken.
“I’m really pleased that we’re continuing to move forward,” Mayor Tim Leavitt said. “This is absolutely the most critical infrastructure project for this region, if not the whole West Coast.”
The Final Environmental Impact Statement is expected to be completed by the end of September. The CRC hopes to have a federal Record of Decision, which allows final design and construction to begin, by the end of the year.
Councilwoman Jeanne Stewart questioned why the Record of Decision will be completed before local residents vote next year on an operations and maintenance sales tax increase for light rail. Citizens were promised a vote on whether light rail is necessary, she said.
“It doesn’t look to me the citizens will have an opportunity to vote on this in any meaningful way,” Stewart said. She was the only councilor not in support of the document.
CRC Project Director Nancy Boyd said the city council selected the locally preferred option, which includes a new bridge and light rail, three years ago.
“The decision to include light rail in this project was made in 2008,” Boyd said. “That decision was made in the past.”
The decision on how to fund maintenance and operation of the light rail is what is before voters and the agencies involved with the project, Boyd said.
Boyd, Heather Wills, CRC environmental manager, and Thayer Rorabaugh, Vancouver’s transportation policy director, briefed the council on the details of the lengthy document and the next steps for the project.
The statement included plans to mitigate the loss of parking spaces downtown, driveway closures, residential and commercial displacements, noise in neighborhoods and the financial impact of tolling on low-income residents.
Councilman Bart Hansen said one of his only concerns had been how long the project was taking to progress. After reviewing the detailed document, Hansen said he understood the research took time to complete.
Councilman Pat Campbell said he’s satisfied with the Final Environmental Impact Statement and is sold on the project.
“You just gave me more confidence that we’re doing the right thing and the right steps are being taken,” he said.
Next month, the Vancouver City Council will be asked to approve a Memorandum of Agreement that outlines how the impacts to historical resources will be resolved. The historical resources in Washington include the northbound Interstate 5 Bridge built in 1917 and the Vancouver National Historic Reserve.
Wills said the project will offer historic interpretations and exhibits on both the bridge and reserve. The project will also create a curation museum to showcase the artifacts unearthed during construction, she said.
The Memorandum of Agreement is tentatively scheduled to go before the council July 18.