Press Talk: 'Bridge-Maker' Ann Rivers?

By Lou Brancaccio, Columbian editor

Published:

 

As Clark County Commissioner David Madore continues to push his no-toll east county bridge proposal, there's another player we all should be keeping an eye on:

State Sen. Ann Rivers.

Look, Madore has an array of land mines he has to avoid for his bridge to become a reality. And any one of them easily would derail his five-year bridge plan. But Rivers — as she often is — will be a key player in any future bridge.

On the surface, you might think these two should be joined at the hip: Both are conservatives. Both are Republicans. Both worked tirelessly to kill a decadelong I-5 bridge replacement that included light rail. And both are looking for an alternative to replace that dead-in-the-water Columbia River Crossing project.

But one shouldn't assume both are on the same "all systems go" page when it comes to an east county bridge.

Hey, I like her

I've liked Rivers ever since I met her in 2010, when she first ran for state representative. She's sometimes a bit too right-wing for me, but she's bright, articulate and a serious player when it comes to getting things done.

Rivers was labeled the "bridge-killer" after the Columbia River Crossing couldn't get through the state Senate. By the way, both the right and left like to use that moniker. Obviously, the right looks at it as a plus, and the left, not so much.

But in the end — and only time will tell — Rivers could be known as the bridge-maker. You see, what Rivers is trying desperately to accomplish is a much-needed solution to a major problem: traffic flow across the Columbia River. And to do that, she knows she also has to first build metaphorical bridges with those who felt defeated when the Columbia River Crossing proposal collapsed.

So Rivers — along with State Rep. Liz Pike — has been trying to put together a coalition of players to see if there is some transportation solution across our mighty river that everyone would buy into.

East county bridge

But is the east county bridge the solution? I doubt it. Not now. There are more pressing needs, like replacing the I-5 bridge.

To be clear, Rivers is not opposed to an east county bridge. So when Madore asked her to run a meeting presenting the bridge proposal, she agreed.

Me, I would have told him, "You're on your own, buddy, don't drag me into your mess." But Rivers took the opportunity to talk about transportation issues.

And frankly, at some point, our county will need an east county bridge. But the key phrase here is "at some point." Is this the point? Rivers will tell you she's not sure.

So I directly asked her if she would be voting for Madore's upcoming advisory for an east county bridge. Rivers said a lot of answers would have to come first before she'd think about voting yes:

"There are far too many questions that must be answered before I can decide how I'm going to vote. We need to know if we're going to have Oregon buy-in and we need some numbers about financing. We need to know what Plan B is if no significant dollars come from the state.

"We also need to know, by the numbers, if this project is going to address concerns about congestion relief, freight mobility commute time reduction and economic development."

OK, that sounds like a "no" to me. Why? Because if Rivers gets all those answers before the November advisory vote and those answers make sense, well, paint me purple and call me Barney.

Rivers also said she's not crazy about the idea of locking out any possibility of a toll on an east county bridge. Madore has said tolls are off the table on his east county bridge.

Madore's insistence on stuff like this never made any sense to me. Rivers tends to agree.

Like many conservatives, Rivers believes in user fees. Frankly, it's a bedrock conservative value. And a toll is exactly that. She did add that if a toll is put in place, residents need an alternative if they want not to pay the toll.

Finally, Rivers said, it would be wrong to assume, because all of the attention has been centered lately on an east county bridge, that it's the only thing being considered. Doing something on the I-5 corridor or something in the west county or other options are all on the table, as well.

So keep your eye on Rivers as our community looks toward transportation solutions. An east county bridge is likely … but not any time soon. There are better alternatives.