Clark County officials drove to Olympia on Thursday to urge lawmakers to approve a measure kick-starting discussions over how to replace the antiquated Interstate 5 Bridge.
Bob Knight, the president of Clark College, said he’s been part of discussions over how to ease the congestion on the bridge for nearly 20 years.
“Let’s get this bridge fixed and look at alternatives (other bridges) down the road,” Knight said to members of the House Transportation Committee, adding the bridge is unsafe.
John McDonagh, the president of the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce, said the failure to fix the bridge situation would stymie efforts to attract employers to the region. Rian Davis, with the Association of Realtors, said homes and businesses are being impacted daily by the gridlock. He called it a quality-of-life issue. While testifying in support, Clark County Councilor John Blom pointed out that the bill requires input from local governments.
While support for Senate Bill 5806 continues to grow, so does a push for first focusing on a third-bridge option. The Senate measure, which passed the Senate last month, creates a Oregon-Washington legislative committee to put top priority on replacing the aging Interstate 5 Bridge.
Rep. Liz Pike, R-Camas, one of only two lawmakers from the Southwest Washington delegation who opposes both the House and Senate versions of the measure, sits on the House Transportation Committee. Pike is leading the charge to consider a west- or east-county bridge before focusing on the Interstate 5 Bridge.
The Republican from Camas told those who were testifying that Oregon is facing a multibillion-dollar unfunded pension liability and will likely be in a budget crunch for some time. She asked how proponents of the bill thought Oregon would be able to fix the congestion near the Rose Quarter to actually ease the traffic after the new bridge is built.
“Absent of that capacity improvement,” Pike said, following up on her first question, “how will a new bridge leading into the same failed corridor in Oregon, how will that improve freight mobility or relieve congestion?”
Blom, the county councilor, said the only way to find out what Oregon would like to do is start the dialogue with them again, which this measure would require.
“This is the first step,” he said.
Knight said one thing is certain: “We won’t get Oregon to do anything if we don’t do (something) first.”
The Clark County council voted earlier this week to join a growing number of local governments supporting the legislation. On Tuesday, the Southwest Washington Regional Transportation Council voted in favor of a resolution backing the legislation. In February, the Vancouver City Council voiced its support for the resolution and on Monday the Battle Ground City Council did the same.