State panel wraps up visit with I-5 Bridge tour

Advisers see CRC’s plans as ‘most reasonable solution’

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

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photoColumbia River Crossing director Nancy Boyd, left, talks with Washington State Transportation Commission member Anne Haley during a walk over the Interstate 5 Bridge. The commission met in Vancouver on Monday and Tuesday.

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State Transportation Commission tour

CRC officials and members of the Washington State Transportation Commission tour the I-5 Bridge project area Tuesday.

CRC officials and members of the Washington State Transportation Commission tour the I-5 Bridge project area Tuesday.

Anne Haley knows well the transportation challenges facing Southwest Washington. She lived in Vancouver in the 1970s, then again in recent years.

For Haley, who now makes her home in Walla Walla, touring the Columbia River Crossing project area Tuesday didn’t offer any huge surprises. But as one of seven members of the Washington State Transportation Commission, she considered the first-hand look valuable.

“The data we received today expands our understanding of the project,” Haley said. “It’s always helpful to go and look at it and talk to planners.”

The commission wrapped up a two-day visit to Vancouver on Tuesday, its first formal gathering here since 2004. The commission includes Clark County resident Philip Parker, who lives north of Battle Ground.

The group spent Monday hearing mostly from the city, county, C-Tran and other key players in the region’s transportation system. They reconvened Tuesday morning for a more thorough update on the $3 billion-plus CRC, then toured much of the five-mile stretch of Interstate 5 on both sides of the Columbia River where the project’s footprint will land.

“Looking at something on a map and actually seeing it on the ground is two different things,” said CRC Director Nancy Boyd, who helped lead the tour on a C-Tran bus.

Panel sets toll rates

The commission serves a largely advisory role to Washington state policy makers in Olympia, and doesn’t have direct say in approving the project. It will, however, set toll rates later in the planning process.

Local agencies signed off on the project’s final environmental impact statement this year, sending the voluminous document ahead to await federal approval. Boyd said Tuesday that that word could arrive as early as this month.

Commission chair Dick Ford of King County said Tuesday’s tour “absolutely” convinced him of the need for the CRC, which will replace the Interstate Bridge, bring light rail to downtown Vancouver and rebuild the freeway on both sides of the river. Ford said he’s particularly sold on the project’s light rail component, which he said would greatly improve the efficiency of the regional system.

“I’m impressed with the work they’ve done.”

Of course, not everyone in Clark County feels that way. The commission heard from about 10 citizens during the public comment portion of Monday’s meeting, mostly in opposition to the CRC and the process it’s followed so far. Ford suggested Monday that those comments should instead be directed toward the local and state officials who are deciding the project’s fate.

Commission members ended the tour by walking onto the existing Interstate Bridge’s pedestrian path on the southbound side, the span shaking slightly under their feet as cars and trucks flew by.

CRC planners hope construction can begin by the end of 2013. Haley indicated that she supports the revamp of the current system.

“It appears that this is the most reasonable solution to a variety of problems,” Haley said.

Eric Florip: 360-735-4541; http://twitter.com/col_enviro; eric.florip@columbian.com.