Press Talk: It's an ugly baby, but it's ours

By Lou Brancaccio, Columbian editor

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When the baby was first born, it — well, let's see how to say this — didn't quite fit the definition of beautiful.

The mom — an honest and strong woman — would not mince words.

"That is one ugly baby," she proclaimed. However, she wasn't quite finished, and sternly added:

"... But it's my baby!"

Thus was born the ugly child known as the Columbia River Crossing.

The CRC — at least the idea of a CRC — is probably a teenager now, with all of those accompanying teenage problems. This poor kid has been kicked around more than the Kardashians. And rightfully so.

There certainly have been cost overruns, designs and redesigns, bloated proposals, critical height issues, frightening (true or untrue) tolling projections and everyone's favorite punching bag, light rail.

Why, why, why — one might ask — are there so many problems? Well the easiest answer is this: It's a government project.

Now, I love government just as much as the next guy but if there were three guys running it, they'd be called stooges. (I kid. I kid.)

I mean, really, have you ever seen a government project — even a small one — run smoothly?

I've done my fair share of wondering aloud what the heck our elected officials are doing — on many issues. And the CRC is one of them.

This thing has been a mess. A big mess. Nonetheless — like the ugly baby — it's our mess.

Now, I suppose there are a few parents out there who might abandon the baby because it's ugly.

But almost all of the time you look at the greater good. You do your best to correct the shortcomings. Then you embrace your child.

• • •

There's a group forming out there — you'll hear more about them soon — that is trying to make this point that, regardless of all its warts, the CRC is ours.

Possibly more important than simply making the case that the bridge is ours, there is a sense from many in this community that the conversation about the CRC has to shift. It has to shift from talking about all the problematic details mentioned above to a much broader topic. And that broader topic is what a new bridge would mean to this community.

In other words, what would this community look like without the new bridge? And what would this community look like with a new bridge?

Could it be the difference between Vancouver living in the past, as a quiet suburb of Portland? Or living in the future as a vibrant, growing city with more opportunities for our children to stay, live and work here?

As it stands now, it looks as if the future of the CRC lies in the state Senate. It also looks as if the Republican majority coalition in the Senate is against the CRC. And that would kill this project.

Two local Republican senators, Don Benton and Ann Rivers, are both opposed to the bridge as proposed today. But could they change their minds?

Benton is intractable because, well, he's Benton. And Rivers appears to be unmovable as well.

Still, I have great respect for Rivers. She is, I believe, a rising star in politics. So I asked her what this project would need to look like for her to support it. Here's her answer:

"A project that increases freight mobility and reduces congestion by more than one minute, that does not have light rail but has a more cost effective and efficient form of mass transit, that is high enough to allow our marine economy to thrive — not just for today, but for the next 100 years, a project that is funded evenly and equitably between the two states."

It is fair to say you can read that as a "no" to the proposal on the table.

Because I respect her, I also respect her view. But her stand means the path to getting this bridge built likely does not go through Clark County. It suggests that a couple of state senators -- from the Puget Sound or Spokane? -- would have to move based on an overall transportation package that would include improvements in their districts.

Whether or not our Republican senators will support this project doesn't discount the importance of our community's having a conversation about what we want to be. Win or lose this bridge battle, that conversation should take place. We desperately need a rallying issue that can bring us together rather than rip us apart. And it's possible an open community conversation — in and of itself — could be that rallying issue.

For all our sakes, let's hope so.


Lou Brancaccio is The Columbian’s editor. Reach him at 360-735-4505, http://twitter.com/lounews or lou.brancaccio@columbian.com.