Herrera Beutler flier asks residents to weigh-in on light rail

The $31,500 mailing outlines her take on controversial bridge

By Andrea Damewood, Columbian staff writer

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Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler, who has frequently called for a local vote on light rail, has spent $31,500 of taxpayer money to ask Clark County taxpayers what they think about it.

In a flier mailed to residents all over the county this week, Herrera Beutler outlines her take on the controversial $3.5 billion Columbia River Crossing, including her belief that the Interstate 5 bridge must be replaced.

“Our current bridge is not adequate the question is, what kind of bridge do we need to replace it?” she writes.

She promises that if the Republican-backed American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act passes, it will include no increase in the federal gas tax and federal money to replace the I-5 Bridge.

Then, Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, turns to the subject of a sales tax increase to pay for light rail as part of the project. Repeating a message she’s delivered often over the past year, she called on the C-Tran Board of Directors to hold a vote on the matter as soon as possible.

Larry Smith, the C-Tran board chairman and a Vancouver City Council member, said the vote will be discussed at the board’s March 20 meeting. But, echoing the words of Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt, this year may not be the best time for a vote if ever.

A sales tax increase, if approved by the voters, would pay for $2.57 million a year in operations and maintenance of the extension of Portland’s MAX light-rail line through downtown Vancouver to Clark College. (Additional money would go toward the operation and maintenance of a bus rapid transit line on Fourth Plain Boulevard.

“I am an advocate for a safe, affordable bridge across the Columbia River that meets our region’s transportation needs,” Herrera Beutler wrote at the top of a return-by-mail poll. “I also believe that the people in Clark County should get to decide through a vote whether they will pay more in taxes for light rail. What do you think?”

The poll’s options (plus a space for an “other” answer) are:

• I agree that Clark County residents should have a vote on whether to pay for light rail as part of this project.

• We should move ahead on a new bridge without a public vote. We should be willing to pay what it takes to expand light rail into Clark County.

• We don’t need a new bridge at all.

To return it to her Washington, D.C., office, residents must attach their own 44-cent stamp.

A state law requiring an expert review of the transportation agency’s plans for high capacity transit means the soonest a vote could be held is November.

The C-Tran board passed a resolution in 2011 saying a vote would happen in 2012, and Smith, the board chairman, said Thursday the agency is still on track for such a vote.

“The board has been committed and is committed toward heading in the direction of that vote in November,” Smith said. “That doesn’t rule out whether this is the right time and right mechanism.”

Smith noted that Herrera Beutler has not met with the C-Tran board or its executive director, Jeff Hamm, face to face and received an overview of the transit agency.

“What disappoints me a little bit is, I think she’d be working extremely hard to bring the revenue to pay for this bridge, to help pay for tolls and maybe even the maintenance of light rail.”

Spokesman Casey Bowman said Thursday that the congresswoman’s office has received thousands of calls and questions about the controversial megaproject, “so we know folks are following it closely.”

The mailer and poll is intended to confirm whether Herrera Beutler’s calls for a vote are in tempo with the community, Bowman wrote in an email.

“Jaime wants to know if her efforts to secure a vote are on the right track, and the best way is to ask citizens directly,” Bowman wrote.

Andrea Damewood: 360-735-4542; http://www.twitter.com/col_cityhall;andrea.damewood@columbian.com.