In Our View: Cheers & Jeers

Partnership zone could boost innovators; Highway 502 construction delayed



Cheers:To exploration of a local Innovation Partnership Zone. The zones, sanctioned by the state, are a way to stimulate economic growth in specific geographic areas and spur cooperation between business, government and education.Currently there are no zones in this region of the state. The Discovery Corridor carried such a designation, but the four-year term expired during the Great Recession without its potential being realized.

What's now being discussed is an innovation zone that would target applied digital technology, a small but high-paying, promising sector of the local economy. The zone would be split among several locations: downtown Vancouver, the waterfront and along Southeast 192nd Avenue.

The zones don't automatically bring benefits, but do allow government to apply for and receive infrastructure grants, for example. That, in turn, gives the area a competitive advantage in attracting new companies and creating more jobs. The partners in exploring a zone for this area include local private companies, economic development groups, colleges and local governments with the exception of Clark County.

Jeers: To a yearlong delay in widening Highway 502 between Duluth and Battle Ground. The $88 million project will transform an old farm road that became a state highway into a corridor suitable to serve the vibrant and rapidly growing small city of Battle Ground. Construction was to begin this summer, but now will be pushed back to 2014, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation. The project won't be completed until 2016.

The delay is due to the complexity of acquiring a portion of some 180 properties from private landowners. Most of the deals have been reached, but the state still has about 30 more agreements to negotiate and sign. And, as a transportation spokeswoman explains, it's not wise to start construction until all of the route is accessible.

The project has been controversial, with some folks along the highway unhappy either about the forced sale of some or all of their property to the state, or about the limited access the modern four-lane highway will provide to their driveways. At least one business, O'Brady's Drive-in at Dollars Corner, has repeatedly challenged the state. The concerns are valid, but there's a pressing need for the highway to be completed.

Cheers: To continued better health for Clark County's housing market. Closed sales and housing prices both took a robust leap in the second quarter, according to RMLS statistics. Closed home sales totaled 1,726 in the three months ended in June, up 21.5 percent compared with the same quarter in 2012. Home prices were up 14 percent, with the median sales price reaching $221,500. After five years of reading about the housing market collapse, lost personal savings, foreclosures and the like, it is especially gratifying to hear of a recovering residential real estate market.

Jeers: To advisory votes on light rail, the Columbia River Crossing and other dead issues. The project is dead: the funding is gone; the governors have pulled the plug; none of the project sponsors advocate for it. Yet Clark County Commissioners David Madore and Tom Mielke continue to press for an advisory vote on whether county resources should be expended on the project, and other project opponents persist in wasting Vancouver's time and cash on a lawsuit that would force a citywide vote. Time to declare victory and go home, folks.

Cheers: To Washington State University's crimson license plates. The Department of Licensing has sold 17,200 of the Cougar license plates, more than all the other collegiate plates combined, raising nearly $500,000 in scholarship money this year. Each license plate yields $28 per year for scholarships.