Local View: Crumbling roads, bridges show why Congress must act

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As citizens of the city of Vancouver -- along with the rest of America -- head out over the Memorial Day weekend, starting the traditions of a summer travel season, I would like to point out that many will see and experience first-hand, the degradation of our community and nation's roadway infrastructure.

The infrastructure woes we have in Vancouver are part of a larger problem. With major roads in poor condition and many bridges rated structurally deficient, our nation's infrastructure earned an overall grade of D in the last Report Card prepared by the American Society of Civil Engineers. Despite a call from communities across our nation, Congress has yet to take action to address long-term transportation funding. Instead of a solid, long term plan, we keep kicking-the-can-down-the-road by passing the 9th extension of the highway bill. In many cases, this uncertainty leaves states such as Washington, and communities such as Vancouver, unable to plan and build much-needed road and bridge projects.

I-5 Bridge a prime example

One example of a needed project is the Columbia River Crossing. Shortcomings in our transportation system negatively affect our region's economy and livability, and the existing Interstate 5 Bridge and adjacent interchanges are doing just that. Significant safety and congestion problems plague the I-5 corridor in Vancouver and south of the Columbia River. These problems will continue to get worse without action.

The Columbia River Crossing project is focused on replacing aged infrastructure by updating the bridge, freeway and feeder interchanges to current design standards. In doing so, the project will provide predictable travel times, improve traffic safety, increase travel options for local residents and prevent traffic backups in neighborhoods.

Without funding from a long-term federal transportation bill, the Columbia River Crossing and other local priority street and port projects will be further delayed. Our region's projects can no longer be put on the back burner.

As of today, both the U.S. House and Senate have passed different versions of a surface transportation bill. Unless the two sides come to an agreement, the current extension will expire on June 30, 2012, putting thousands of jobs and local projects at risk.It is critical for Congress to pass legislation in this time frame that provides multi-year funding and guarantees reforms that can ensure projects are finished in a timely manner. One place where both sides have found agreement is the need to streamline the environmental process, to keep transportation projects on time and on budget.

But the need is now. Our nation's roads and bridges are the lifeline of commerce and key to our economic recovery. A recent study by the American Society of Civil Engineers found that in 2010, deficiencies in America's roads, bridges and transit systems cost American households roughly $130 billion, including approximately $97 billion in vehicle operating costs, $32 billion in delays in travel time, $1.2 billion in safety costs and $590 million in environmental costs.

The residents of Vancouver and the state of Washington deserve better, and our members of Congress need to hear that we are paying attention to the stalemate in Washington. Passing a multiyear funding of the transportation bill before June 30 will ensure our important regional and state projects can move forward, and that our economy sees all the benefits.

Tim Leavitt is mayor of Vancouver.