Press Talk: The east county bridge mystery

By Lou Brancaccio, Columbian editor


photoLou Brancaccio is The Columbian’s editor.

I likes me some bridges.

No, really. I do!

• There's the 1957 classic movie "The Bridge on the River Kwai" starring William Holden. It's about British prisoners who are forced to build a bridge in Burma for the Japanese during World War II.

• There's Simon & Garfunkel's No. 1, 1970 hit "Bridge Over Troubled Waters."

• And, of course, there's The County Commissioner David Madore Bridge — otherwise know as the proposed east county bridge to nowhere. Still, I like that bridge because there won't be a toll, so it will feel like it's free. Throw in a free gallon of Salt & Straw ice cream (I particularly like the bone marrow and smoked bourbon cherries flavor), and I'm really in!

You see, Madore keeps pushing and pushing this not-ready-for-prime-time bridge thing. But for all practical purposes, it's dead in the water.

So how is this east county bridge still alive? Well, that's a bit of a mystery I've been trying to solve.

Let's go back to see if we can get an answer:

For more than a decade, a whole bunch of people were trying to figure out how to replace the aging Interstate 5 Bridge. There were public meetings and plans and … well, you get the idea.

Eventually the thing died, mainly because light rail would be included and no one was crazy about tolling to help pay for it.

Two local politicians — state Sen. Ann Rivers and state Rep. Liz Pike — were strongly against the replacement proposal as presented. They were especially against light rail.

Realizing we still needed to do something, Rivers and Pike put together a coalition of folks from both Washington and Oregon. The coalition was tasked with coming up with a bunch of proposals to consider: I-5 replacement, west county bridge, east county bridge — heck, throw in a tunnel.

But talk and conceptual thinking is cheap. Someone needed to get something down on paper.

Enter the Figg Engineering Group. They build bridges.

Rivers — in an attempt to move the coalition's ideas off of the back of cocktail napkins and onto real plans — contacts Linda Figg, the president of the engineering group.

It was a first real step.

One thing led to another, and an initial meeting was held with Figg.

Now, here's where the real mystery begins. Somehow, someway, Madore gets involved.

And suddenly, he and Figg are presenting plans for an east county bridge.


No plans for a west county bridge? No plans for an I-5 replacement bridge? And no involvement by this Rivers/Pike coalition?

What happened?

Rep. Liz Pike on the east county bridge

I ran into Pike this week and asked her how Madore managed to only get his pet project bridge to move forward. The one with virtually no chance of happening.

Pike: "Well, I think you should ask Commissioner Madore that. This is (just) one bridge builder that has apparently impressed Commissioner Madore."

Pike said the first she heard about plans being presented for an east county bridge was when Madore alerted the press that he was about to reveal those plans publicly.

That doesn't sound very collaborative. Still, I pressed on.

Me: "What happened to your coalition? How did he end up getting Figg to do (just) an east county bridge proposal when (the coalition) is running the show? How did he commandeer that thing?"

Pike: "You should ask him that."

So I asked Madore.

Me: "Commissioner, could you please tell me why Figg only produced plans for an east county bridge? Thanks."

Madore: (insert blank stare here)

Since Madore doesn't answer difficult questions from the press, I decided to ask Figg. I hoped to get hold of the main woman herself — Linda Figg — but I first had to go through the head PR woman.

Her name is Eliza Partington, and her actual title is (dramatic pause required here) Director of Lasting Impressions. What the … ?

She was actually quite nice. When our conversation was over, she complimented me on my questions. She found them to be quite good, even unique. I wanted to know how only plans for an east county bridge were developed and who was the main force behind that decision.

Partington said she'd get with Linda Figg and get back to me the next day. She didn't. I called several times since then to see where my answers were. No one answered the phone. I left messages. No return call.

The Figg company certainly left a "lasting impression" on me.

So Madore isn't speaking. Figg isn't speaking. And frankly, that speaks volumes.

So, why is it so important that an I-5 Bridge replacement be seriously considered? Because even though an east county bridge might someday — a long, long time from now — be viable, today we need a solution to the I-5 Bridge. That's the priority. Rivers knows it. Pike knows it. And most reasonable politicians know it. OK, Madore doesn't know it. The I-5 Bridge replacement might not immediately include light rail. And it might not have high tolls. But we need to concentrate on the I-5 corridor.

Spending valuable time on an east county bridge that won't happen is simply a diversion.

Madore and his sidekick, Commissioner Tom Mielke — the M&M boys — should work on building bridges to communicate and stop working on building bridges to nowhere.

Lou Brancaccio is The Columbian's editor.