I-5 Bridge bill draws favorable reviews at hearing

Several officials from Clark County address Senate panel on need for replacement

By Jake Thomas, Columbian staff writer

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A Senate panel heard favorable reviews Tuesday for a House bill intended to restart the process to replace the chronically congested Interstate 5 Bridge.

The panel also briefly discussed efforts to reconcile the bill with a companion measure.

Lawmakers earlier this month passed House Bill 2095 with a 60-38 vote, and it had its initial hearing before the Senate Transportation Committee on Tuesday.

During the hearing, state Sen. Curtis King, a Yakima Republican who chairs the committee, said that in addition to the five people who testified in favor of the bill, another 33 had signed in as supporting the legislation.

“So you guys have done your homework, let me tell you,” he said.

Those who spoke in favor of the bill included representatives from the Port of Vancouver, the Columbia River Economic Development Council, retired local labor leader and activist Ed Barnes and Clark County Councilor John Blom.

Their remarks focused on how the congestion on the bridge had the potential to constrict economic growth and was already making it difficult for residents to cross the river for medical or business appointments.

“It’s a major problem,” John Rudi, president of Vancouver-based Thompson Metal Fab, told the committee of the clogged bridges. “You essentially have a 3 1/2 -hour window to get anything done.”

A companion Senate bill was amended to remove language that designated the bridge replacement as being of “statewide significance.”

Early in the hearing, legislative staff described a proposed amendment to the House version of the bill that would also remove the “statewide significance” language. The amendment, which wasn’t voted on, also provided more details on a joint legislative action committee consisting of Oregon and Washington legislators that would examine options for replacing the bridge.

Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, testified in favor of the bill, saying that it contained language calling on the committee to examine a mass transit option but noted that it didn’t necessarily call for light rail, which has drawn opposition in Clark County. Harris also said that the bill allowed the committee to examine maintenance for other bridges along the Columbia River.

“We need this bridge. The state needs this bridge. Oregon doesn’t know it, but they need this bridge,” Harris said.