Gov. Inslee: New I-5 Bridge is critical

He visits Vancouver to tout transportation package passed by Legislature in 2015

By Lauren Dake, Columbian Political Writer

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Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee spent Wednesday afternoon in Vancouver to tout the multibillion dollar transportation deal struck last legislative session, but he also took a moment to reflect on a project that wasn’t included in the package.

“We have to have an Interstate 5 corridor that is not built on wooden piers and signed by the Woodrow Wilson administration, that is imperative. We have to fix that corridor,” Inslee told The Columbian’s editorial board.

Inslee, who is seeking re-election, believes it’s possible an Interstate 5 Bridge replacement project could be considered in his second term.

“I think it’s possible. It’s a heavy lift, because the community needs to find a unified vision on this crossing … (one) that isn’t going to be torpedoed by your legislators,” he said.

The bridge is too fragile; one small earthquake and the I-5 Bridge could crumble, the governor said.

“First priority has to be the Interstate 5 Bridge,” over any other crossing, Inslee said. “It’s so critical to the economy of the region.”

Inslee also spent time at the Vancouver Community Library to celebrate the passage of the $16 billion package that carved out money for transportation projects in Clark County. Money from the package will go toward a range of projects, including rebuilding the interchange at I-5 and Mill Plain Boulevard, making improvements to state Highway 501 from I-5 to the Port of Vancouver, and helping to build a railroad overpass in Ridgefield.

The governor, surrounded by Washington State Department of Transportation employees, said the statewide package should create 200,000 family-wage jobs throughout the state.

“From my very first hours in office as governor, I’ve been pushing to get this done,” Inslee told the crowd, which included several local elected officials.

“I can recall in 2013 and 2014 people were rolling their eyes when I said we could do a transportation package,” the governor said.

But with the passage of the transportation package, “we can say fundamentally, we have delivered transportation for Clark County,” he told the crowd.

While speaking to The Columbian’s editorial board, Inslee touched on a wide range of topics, from his push to raise teacher wages to creating a framework to fully fund the state’s public education system this legislative session.

When pressed, he also said if the proposed oil-by-rail terminal were approved and built at the Port of Vancouver, it might not be something he would highlight on a brochure.

“I have some sense of how intense the feelings are about the subject,” Inslee said of the oil terminal.

But under law, he is prohibited from speaking about the project until he makes a final decision on whether to approve the proposed crude-by-rail terminal.

“That wouldn’t end up on a brochure, ‘Come live in Washington, home of the (nation’s) largest oil terminal?’ ” Columbian Editor Lou Brancaccio asked.

“We would probably find some other things to talk about,” Inslee said.