In Our View: Better Bridge? Game On!

Local lawmakers call for new action on the Columbia River's old problem



Several Clark County politicians have decided not to spend much time eulogizing or denouncing (take your pick) the deceased Columbia River Crossing. Instead, just three weeks after Washington and Oregon governors pulled the plug on the project, the lawmakers are getting right back into the bridge improvements game.Although this new journey is long and fraught with the same bickering that surrounded the CRC, it must begin. And a good first step is Friday’s letter from U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, to Washington State Department of Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson.

The letter urges “all interested parties to come back to the table and put forward a plan that both meets the needs of the region and enjoys the support of our constituents.” Easier said than done? Of course, but again, let the journey begin.

Signatories include local Republican legislators Don Benton, Ann Rivers, Paul Harris, Liz Pike and Brandon Vick; and local Democratic legislators Jim Moeller and Sharon Wylie.

Although the letter is rich with opportunities for cynics and critics to voice negative responses, it is necessary to move toward new solutions. Yes, some will point out that the letter went to the WSDOT officials and the bridge is an Oregon structure. That doesn’t matter. Herrera Beutler’s constituents are Washingtonians, and dispatching a first request to Olympia is reasonable. For that matter, we urge Oregon’s politicians to issue the same call for action to the Oregon Department of Transportation.

Others might wonder about the letter’s call to “modernize and upgrade the current transportation corridor across the river.” That sounds like keeping the old bridge, while the CRC’s recommendation involved demolition. But that’s old news. If a new, reasonable function can be found for the old bridge after upgrades, and if the new plan elicits more public buy-in than its predecessor, so be it.

The letter mentions “assessment of the safety level and potential hazards for the I-5 Columbia River Bridge … options to upgrade and improve the bridge to mitigate whatever risks may exist.” Nothing wrong with that. Remember, bridge improvements at the Tacoma Narrows included keeping the old structure. That might work here, too.

Those who signed the letter vowed to “fight for funding” on upgrades and new structures. We hope Oregon makes the same commitment.

If there is anything this new journey does NOT need, it’s a rear-view mirror. To CRC supporters (including The Columbian’s editorial board): It’s over. Time to move on. To CRC critics: There’s no need to carry old grudges. They’re especially unbecoming after a decisive victory.

Today, our community’s quest for an improved or replaced river crossing is a blank slate. It would seem virtually impossible for anyone to argue over a blank slate, but we wouldn’t be surprised if new sparks of old disputes flare up soon.

Let the more open minds prevail. All of us — Washingtonians and Oregonians — can agree that the status quo is obsolete, dangerous, dreadfully inconvenient and unacceptable. From that agreement, we all can move forward together.