Clark County voters in November will have their say on the best routes across the Columbia River, as well as whether light rail and bus rapid transit have a place here.
Commissioners on Monday decided to place six nonbinding advisory votes on the November ballot.
Three measures will ask voters whether they favor an Interstate 5 replacement bridge, or a new bridge to the east or west. Two will ask if commissioners should oppose any light rail or bus-rapid transit project not expressly approved by a countywide vote. And the final measure will ask voters if they want to limit use of fireworks to July 4.
The commissioners decided to put the questions on the ballot because the county is already asking voters to elect freeholders. The six additional ballot measures will cost the county $107,000.
"It's a small price to pay to get the pulse of the people," said Commissioner Steve Stuart, who used to work for a market research firm. "This is relatively inexpensive for the response we'll get. It's a bargain."
Several Clark County residents felt differently.
"We elected you to be representatives, to make informed decisions in the best interest of Clark County," said Paul Montague. The executive director of Identity Clark County said he was speaking as a private citizen. "Putting these measures on the ballot flies in the face of representative government."
Others, who had fought the failed $3.4 billion Columbia River Crossing project, said they are happy to have a say.
"Thank you so much for finally giving the citizens of Clark County a vote," said Debbie Peterson of Vancouver. "It is not a waste. It is a privilege to be able to do this."
She and others opposed to the CRC took particular issue with the light-rail component of the project. They backed an initiative in Vancouver to prevent the city from using its resources to promote light rail. Last week, a Clark County Superior Court judge rejected their efforts, ruling that the measure exceeded initiative powers.
County commissioners took pains to write measures that stayed within their jurisdiction.
The county has direct authority over fireworks regulations. The current ordinance allows fireworks from June 28 to July 4. The November measure asks voters if they would like to limit the sale of fireworks to July 2, 3 and 4, and the discharge to July 4.
For the transportation measures, the commissioners would adopt policies to guide their votes on the C-Tran board, the Southwest Washington Regional Transportation Council and other committees.
If the voters approve the measure against light rail, the commissioners would oppose all light rail projects that haven't been approved by voters. Same goes for the bus rapid transit measure.
The three bridge measures let the commissioners gauge voter preference on ways to solve congestion on the Interstate 5 Bridge across the Columbia.
As Stuart put it, "All other things being equal, do we go east, west or replace what we have?"
All three ballot measures assume a bridge without tolls or light rail costing $900 million.
"These ideas are half-baked," Lee Jensen of Battle Ground told commissioners at Monday's hearing. "They plant seeds in people's brains, making them think it's a feasible option."
"You are tying up the business of Clark County by doing all these advisory votes," agreed Bob Carroll of Vancouver. "How can you tell now how much a bridge is going to cost until there's a study done?"
Stuart later clarified: "If it's not less than $900 million, we won't support it."
Commissioner Tom Mielke said he's looking forward to receiving "some firm direction."
"I feel really good going to the people," he said.
Commissioner David Madore does, too.
"For so long, we've been told we can't vote, it's not our jurisdiction. We have some healing to do in our community," Madore said. "We can move ahead. We can build something. Let the people speak."