State transportation plan has 'pittance' for Clark County

Local officials urge statelegislators for more funds

By Stevie Mathieu, Columbian assistant metro editor

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Southwest Washington's share of money in the latest draft of a statewide transportation plan is a "pittance" when compared to the amount of money going to other parts of the state, Identity Clark County executive director Paul Montague told lawmakers Thursday in Olympia.

"The current version of the revenue package in front of you today has raised a lot of red flags in Southwest Washington," Montague said. He and other business leaders in the region are asking lawmakers to tweak the proposal.

The plan in question, a package of bills that would raise the gas tax 11.5 cents a gallon and generate $12.3 billion for transportation improvements across the state, designates a combined $41.4 million for four projects in Clark County. It also makes $35 million available for local governments in Clark County to use on their roads.

The Legislature is not in session, but the Senate Transportation Committee opened the transportation package up for public comment during an interim work meeting. The package considered Thursday was put forward by the Senate's majority caucus, which is made up of 23 Republicans and two maverick Democrats.

The Senate majority's plan is similar to one that failed in the Legislature earlier this year, but it's been reworked and no longer includes $450 million for the controversial Columbia River Crossing project. Instead, it would provide $7 million for a railway overpass on Pioneer Street in Ridgefield, $7.5 million to widen state Highway 502 in Battle Ground and $1.9 million for rail improvements in west Vancouver.

Listing in error?

Another project listed in the plan is described in budget documents as an "(Interstate) 205/18th Avenue flyover and offramp at Mill Plain" Boulevard in Vancouver, and it's valued at $25 million. It's unclear whether this is the same project as one that would add I-205 access from 18th Street, about a mile north of Mill Plain. Senate staff said there's an error with that project listing, and they're working to correct it.

According to Southwest Washington's Regional Transportation Council, Southwest Washington will require more than $1.25 billion in transportation projects and $700 million in transportation preservation and repairs during the next decade.

The Senate's transportation plan overlooks some major needs in Clark County, Matt Ransom, a transportation policy manager for Vancouver, told the committee Thursday. He highlighted just a few: safety improvements on state Highway 500 in Vancouver, adding a third lane to state Highway 14 in east Vancouver and updating the Interstate 5 interchange at Mill Plain Boulevard.

Kelly Parker, president and CEO of the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement Wednesday that improving Mill Plain Boulevard and state Highway 501 between I-5 and the Port of Vancouver would fix costly freight delays. That project is estimated to cost $6 million, according to the city of Vancouver.

Before Thursday's hearing, Parker said it might be tough to change senators' minds on the project list, adding: "We're kind of the underdog going into it, because others have their projects included and we want our projects added."

But Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima and a key player in the transportation package, said Thursday that there's still room for some changes in the bills.

"They are drafts, so they're subject to change, hence why we're listening to what you have to say today," King said.

Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, serves as vice co-chairman of the committee.

The Columbian's Gordon Oliver contributed to this story.