Tuesday, August 11, 2020
Aug. 11, 2020

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In Our View: Mixed Messages

Tuesday's election in Clark County leaves us wondering about the transportation issue

The Columbian

On first review, clear consensus was established by Clark County voters on two topics in Tuesday’s election. We want to privatize liquor sales, and we’re big on transportation. First, about 59 percent of local participating voters approved Initiative 1183, which takes the state out of the liquor business and sets up a capitalistic system similar to what’s seen in 30-plus other states. Second, about 54 percent of local voters approved Proposition 1, to preserve funding for C-Tran and C-Van public transit services.

But that’s just on first review. Upon closer inspection, a conflict emerges between how Clark County voted on two transportation issues. On one hand, we favored a tax increase to preserve C-Tran services, but on the other hand we supported a statewide referendum limiting tolls. About 59 percent of local voters supported Initiative 1125, which would limit the implementation and use of tolls for transportation projects.

Although I-1125 appears to be failing by a narrow margin statewide, that solid local support of I-1125 can be interpreted as a heavy opposition to tolls, and no one around here mentions tolls without the Columbia River Crossing coming up.

Is the local opposition to tolls sufficient to obstruct progress on the new bridge? The answer might come sooner than you think, perhaps next year. C-Tran plans to put a one-tenth of a percentage point sales tax increase on the ballot, with the proceeds of that increase to pay for maintenance and operation of light rail extending across the river to Clark College.

Thus we have the completion of a paradoxical circle: Many local residents support C-Tran, but many resist tolls, which are part of the CRC plans, which include light rail, which probably will be brought up to a public vote by — you guessed it — C-Tran.

This is one reason we’ve advocated a countywide vote on light rail. It would be that significant of a change in our community. It’s a change that we editorially support, but that’s not what counts. Establishing a true public consensus is what counts.

But back to tolls: Even if local resistance to tolls is substantial, the ultimate decision is not a local one. Interstate 5 is vital to the West Coast. Indeed, it’s an international commerce corridor from Canada to Mexico. That’s why the bulk of toll-related decisions will be made by state transportation officials, just as federal funding decisions will be made by Congress.

However that drama unfolds, the passion that was poured into Tuesday’s big showdown — from local candidates and the C-Tran ballot measure to statewide initiatives — made it an interesting battle, although not one of huge impact. No great changes will be seen at the legislative level or on city councils in the major cities.

Even the statewide issues, such as privatization of liquor sales, will not make an overwhelming difference in the way most folks live their lives.

For all its intrigue and melodrama, we suspect the election of 2011 will be rather dull when compared with what’s going to unfold in 2012. And because of the immense impact of what is expected to appear on ballots next year, Clark County residents should aspire to a higher voter turnout than what was seen this week. Less than half of registered voters participated.

So, kindly accept our congratulations to the winners, plus a hearty thanks-for-trying to all the rest, and this prediction for 2012: At the local, state and national levels, politics will be a spectacular show next year. Plan now to become more than just a spectator.