Cleveland: Separating CRC fact from fiction

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I am proud to be a native of Vancouver and the 49th Legislative District. Our community has long been one of vision and opportunity. From the settlement of Fort Vancouver in 1825, to the building of the first span of the Interstate Bridge in 1917, to the establishment of Clark College in 1933 and Washington State University Vancouver in 1989, to the renovation of Officers Row and establishment of the Fort Vancouver National Historic Reserve, ours is a community that constantly moves forward.

We now face a critical decision that will determine whether our forward progress continues: the replacement of the antiquated Interstate 5 Bridge with the Columbia River Crossing project. Those of us representing the 49th Legislative District have long been focused on the future and recognize that the replacement of the Interstate Bridge is critical to moving our community forward. State Reps. Jim Moeller and Sharon Wylie join me in the opinions expressed below.

Replacement of the Interstate Bridge is no small undertaking. Replacing the 1917 and 1958 interstate bridges will cost $850 million in federal transit funds, $450 million each from Washington and Oregon in initial state funds, and $900 million to $1.3 billion in tolls. The new bridge has a proposed clearance of 116 feet, eliminating the need for a drawbridge mechanism and hours-long disruptions to traffic. Its impact on all of us who use it will be just as significant, bringing relief to commuters and trucks sitting today in gridlock.

On a project this big and this consequential, people deserve to know the facts. They also deserve to know when someone's confusing fact with fiction.

Lanes, light rail

For years, opponents of the new bridge have spread misinformation. You deserve better. So let's scrub away a few myths with a healthy dose of the truth.

Myth No. 1: The new bridge will not add lanes to increase existing capacity.

Fact: The new bridge provides five lanes plus emergency lanes in each direction; that's two more lanes in each direction than we have now. The additional lanes are to absorb the influx of entering and exiting vehicles without disrupting the free flow of traffic across the bridge.

Myth No. 2: The new bridge won't cut travel time.

Fact: Again, with two additional lanes in each direction to accommodate entering and exiting traffic, those vehicles won't clog and jam the three through lanes as occurs now. A similar increase in capacity on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge turned hours of backups into free-flowing travel even during rush hour.

Myth No. 3: To qualify for federal funds, the new bridge doesn't need light rail; bus rapid-transit lanes suffice.

Fact: No light rail, no federal funds. This project, like others across the country, faces a critical September 2013 deadline. The federal funds were set aside for projects based on need and urgency; states that don't meet the deadline for federal funding go to the back of the list -- and another state that's ready to proceed with a project will get our money.

And altering the project to feature bus-rapid transit would require a new environmental impact statement, blow the deadline, and set the project behind by several years. Worse yet, there's no guarantee we could get those funds down the road if we fumble the ball now. And even if we could, the years of delay would inflate the cost of the bridge by millions.

This bridge is about our future. Do we stand up and move forward, as numerous community leaders have before us, ensuring that our children have the option of growing up and settling here to raise their own families? I feel fortunate to have had that option. Or do we turn our backs on progress by stalling and blocking the CRC project?

The future depends on us. The facts matter.