One story stands apart for its frequent standing in the top five (if not the very top) of our Clark County news highlights. That would be the dream of a new Interstate 5 bridge. Just try and name a discussion that’s been more front-and-center for the past many years!
Thousands of concerned residents and key business people have spent many hours deliberating the new span for the Vancouver-to-Portland waters of the Columbia River. It’s a matter that’s been tossed around at great length — by taxpayers, commentators and policymakers at the local, state and national levels.
Frankly, as extensive as these conversations have been, there exists a far deeper issue than our need for a new bridge. Yes, as important as that need happens to be, it is not the biggest piece of the story. Let’s take a look at what this discussion is truly all about, and what it’s not at all about.
The real issue here has to do with our state of Washington’s position as one of the nation’s foremost trade states — a fact that defines the issue as nothing less than a pivotal dialogue about our economic future. This is a simple, down-to-earth reality that is simply much too important for us to lose sight of our common interests. We mustn’t get high-centered on the road to doing the right thing; we must make decisions that make the best long-term sense for each of our communities and neighborhoods.
No, this is not about any legislator, or even any legislative agenda. It isn’t a partisan thing, or anything that currently separates (or that should ever separate) Democrats from Republicans. It’s not even, when you get right down to it, about the new bridge idea itself. This is about the future of our entire state of Washington. It’s about business, labor and environmentalists working together toward a solution that works best for everyone.
A Washington-wide transportation package that we should establish, having already made its way through the state House of Representatives, must ultimately go through the state Senate. Folks need to step up to the plate, to take their rightful seats at that elusive table, a very necessary table, called compromise. This is desperately important, and not simply just because so many of us in Southwest Washington want to move forward, once and for all, toward replacing the I-5 Bridge. For our whole state, embracing a new transportation package is a crucial strategy not only for the Columbia River Crossing but also for completing state Route 167 in Tacoma and the North/South freeway in Spokane.
I’m especially encouraged by the leadership toward compromise demonstrated by Sen. Ann Rivers, one of the newest members of our Southwest Washington legislative delegation. Hers is a welcome, positive voice accentuating the compromises we need to move our state’s transportation objectives forward. Note the strong spirit of compromise in a recent letter signed and sent by the majority of us in the legislative delegation (as well as Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas) to the new secretary of the Washington State Department of Transportation. We re-emphasize our commitment to finding “a long-term solution that will modernize and upgrade the current transportation corridor across the river.” Our letter also stresses that whatever plan is eventually adopted “must focus on safety and the movement of highway and river traffic.”
Safety? Right now, the bridge region is hit by at least one collision every day. That’s about twice the rate of similar urban highways. Crashes occur much more often, of course, whenever there’s any significant traffic congestion. And yes, you can be certain that the frequency of serious congestion (and the collisions that go with it) will soar if nothing is done.
Look to the optimism and the resilience of our huge economy. One cannot help but remain confident in our position and continued success as a trade state. Our regional and national recovery, while very much underway, is certainly still a work in progress. Look also to the example of folks from the business, labor, and environmental communities standing in agreement, underlining the urgency of this undertaking. Remember, this is the No. 1 priority for so many local businesses! We cannot fall victim to narrow-minded, short-sighted sound bites that are worth neither the paper they’re printed on nor the e-folderol they’re transmitted on.
State Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver (49th Legislative District), is Speaker Pro Tempore of the Washington State House of Representatives. He is a member of the Rules Committee, the Transportation Committee, and the Health Care & Wellness Committee. Moeller in his professional life away from Olympia is a chemical-dependency counselor, a calling he’s pursued for more than 27 years.