In Our View: Third Bridge Still a Fantasy

Madore's idea has some merit, but it ignores a number of harsh realities

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A proposal to build a third bridge across the Columbia River is a case of taking a good, healthy swing at a fastball but not keeping our eye on the ball.

Clark County commissioner David Madore has spearheaded the idea, suggesting that a new bridge connecting east Vancouver with east Portland could be built within five years at a reasonable cost with no tolls being assessed for crossing the bridge. FIGG Engineering Group, a Florida-based company, presented details of the proposal to the public last week, and the idea has some merit. If, indeed, a bridge could be built for no more than $860 million and be in place before the end of the decade, by all means that is worth pursuing. But considering that two states, two counties, multiple cities and multiple transportation agencies must be involved, the plan sounds as though it was hatched in Fantasyland.

That is not necessarily a bad thing; many a great idea has seemed absurdly implausible at its genesis. But we will take the third-bridge idea more seriously if there is some demonstrated buy-in from other leaders, particularly those in Oregon. Madore also will need to make peace with decision-makers from the city of Vancouver, considering that the proposed terminus at 192nd Avenue is within the city limits — and that county commissioners have no say over what happens in that area.

In addition, if Madore is serious about the proposal, we urge him to demonstrate some flexibility on his “no tolls” pledge. Charging a nominal user fee for those who cross the bridge is not only fair to taxpayers who won’t benefit from the span, but it will make the proposal more financially viable.

Still, the larger problem with the third-bridge proposal returns us to the baseball analogy: We need to keep our eye on the ball, and in this case that means taking another swing at improving the Interstate 5 corridor. Unfortunately, because of some high-level political maneuvering, the Columbia River Crossing proposal died despite investments of nearly $200 million and a decade of planning. Nevertheless, the I-5 corridor should remain the region’s primary transportation focus. A revamped I-5 bridge — with or without light rail at this point — will provide the most transportation benefits for the region.

Madore disagrees. “The problem isn’t the I-5 Bridge. It’s that we don’t have enough bridges,” he told The Oregonian. “It’s why we have 11 or 12 bridges across the Willamette River — to keep things moving.” That is a valid point, but years of discussion and public input from both sides of the river identified the I-5 bridge as the top transportation priority.

To gauge the public’s interest and support for a third bridge, Clark County commissioners are expected today to consider placing an advisory vote on this November’s ballot. Last November, an advisory vote asked whether commissioners should support an east county toll-free bridge, and 58 percent of voters agreed that they should.

An advisory measure this time around would ask voters to weigh in on the specifics unveiled last week, but at this point it would be asking the electorate to engage in nothing more than wishful thinking. Until there is demonstrated support from Oregon, until financing specifics are presented, and until the city of Vancouver weighs in on the plan, we might as well be asking whether Clark County should try and get the New York Yankees to move to Yacolt.

Madore has taken a good, hard swing at helping to solve transportation issues in the area. But if you want to hit a home run, you need to keep your eye on the ball.