Other than for its amazing longevity, the Interstate 5 Bridge is not a source of pride for the people of Clark County. To the contrary, it’s an embarrassment, a relic and a substandard structure, in fact a bewilderingly unique red light on the West Coast’s major transportation corridor.
Nonetheless, it was good that local folks got to “show off” the antiquated bridge this week. Members of the Washington State Transportation Commission got an up close and personal look at the homely connector during the commission’s first formal meeting here in seven years. The seven commissioners — including Philip Parker of Clark County — concluded their two-day gathering on Tuesday by touring much of the five-mile stretch of the Columbia River Crossing. They spent that time doing what many of us have done for a decade or more, visualizing a new bridge and dreaming of the day when this obsolete transportation tourniquet can be removed.
According to a story by Eric Florip in Wednesday’s Columbian, the commissioners were impressed by what they saw in their collective mind’s eye. Commission Chairman Dick Ford of King County said he was “absolutely” convinced that a new bridge with an extension of Portland’s light rail system is a proper plan.
Skeptics would understandably reply, “Hey, what else would you expect? After all, it’s a transportation commission!”
That’s true, but the commissioners’ enthusiasm helps build momentum for the CRC. Their solid endorsement falls in line with six other major agencies that have endorsed the project: the Southwest Washington Regional Transportation Commission, Metro (Portland’s regional government), TriMet, C-Tran and state transportation departments in Washington and Oregon. Fortifying those official authorizations have been numerous advocacies of other stakeholders including ports and municipalities.
We’re also glad the transportation commissioners gained a broader knowledge of the complexity of the CRC, the fact that it’s more than just a bridge and light rail. Indeed, it’s a five-mile stretch including at least a half-dozen new freeway interchanges and major improvements in multi-modal transportation services. It’s unlikely that any other project in the nation addresses such a vast, bistate array of car, truck, rail, aviation and marine needs, both commercial and recreational.
Approbation is far from universal, of course, as many critics continue their steadfast opposition. On Monday, several CRC foes spoke before the transportation commission, which for the most part redirected those complaints. Chairman Ford told forensic accountant Tiffany Couch, “We’re not the agency you should talk to.” The commission serves in a largely advisory role to legislators, although the commission will set tolling rates later in the CRC process.
Both critics and supporters have another opportunity to express their opinions to the transportation commission. An online survey asks Washingtonians to tell “state officials what you think about transportation & how to pay for it.” The survey can be accessed at http://www.voiceofwashingtonsurvey.org.">www.voiceofwashingtonsurvey.org.">http://www.voiceofwashingtonsurvey.org. Or, you can visit the commission’s website: http://www.wstc.wa.gov">www.wstc.wa.gov">http://www.wstc.wa.gov and click on “Statewide Transportation System Survey.”
Be advised, though, that major decisions about the CRC will be made by legislatures in both Washington and Oregon, as well as by Congress and federal agencies in months and years to come.
For this week, though, it was good to have the Washington State Transportation Commission get a firsthand view of what’s needed and what’s planned.