Proposed east county bridge design to be revealed

Project spearheaded by Commissioner Madore

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter

Published:

 

People will get a first look at the much-discussed but still-undisclosed design for a proposed third toll-free crossing over the Columbia River later this month.

The Clark County Board of Commissioners on Wednesday scheduled a hearing to discuss placing a countywide advisory vote for the east county bridge proposal on the November general election ballot. Preliminary designs from Figg Engineering Group, a Florida-based firm that specializes in bridges, will be presented at the hearing, Commissioner David Madore said.

In November 2013, county voters gave a nod to pursuing an east county bridge, approving a non-binding advisory vote to do so with 58 percent of the vote.

But while Madore has touted the project for the past year as a viable alternative to relieving bistate traffic congestion, the two other commissioners at a Wednesday meeting voiced apprehension about what the hearing would accomplish.

Commissioner Tom Mielke said he wanted more specifics about the project and questioned how another advisory vote would be any different from last year's, while Commissioner Ed Barnes said he opposed the idea altogether.

The commissioners eventually reached an agreement to hear the proposal, which may include talk of financing, at their July 29 meeting.

Madore has been working on the project behind the scenes for months. Details about the project have not emerged at county meetings.

In a Facebook comment posted in April, Madore said he originally paid for Peterson Engineering to provide professional services for the project. Figg Engineering, meanwhile, is not charging for its work, Madore wrote in his April comment.

He has also said county taxpayers will not be on the hook for any of the preliminary costs.

On Wednesday, Madore said that while Figg's work would be used to highlight the project and show people what it could look like, the firm wouldn't necessarily receive a contract. The county will accept unsolicited proposals from other bridge design firms, Madore said, if voters give the go-ahead to pursue the project.

Mielke said the idea that people would vote for a bridge concept and design, even though the county intended to accept other proposals later on, was confusing.

Figg Engineering is best known for rebuilding the Interstate 35W bridge in Minneapolis, Minn. Their work replaced the original span, which collapsed in 2007, falling 105 feet into the Mississippi River and killing 13 people.

The free market, Madore said, would dictate which design firm got the assignment.

"We don't want to give this company a monopoly," he said.

Barnes has long opposed the east county bridge and made that position known during his appointment interview in June. He reiterated his views and said he would not change his opinion.

Questions regarding the bridge's funding needed to be answered, Barnes said.

"I don't want to buy a pig in a poke," he said.

Indeed, any bridge built over the Columbia River will require buy-in from a web of local and interstate jurisdictions. A funding package would likely have to receive an OK from the legislatures in Oregon and Washington. The project has been quoted as costing no more than $900 million.

Answers will be forthcoming at the July 29 meeting, Madore said, with that discussion likely touching on the bridge's price tag and design.