“This is more than we’ve ever had before,” he said. “We’re bringing education together, we’re talking about a lot of things to make this community more sound economically.”
But frustration, more than optimism, underscored Wolfe’s gravelly voice.
He and others who’ve steered the county’s growth strategy for decades are under fire by critics girding to capsize their priorities. Wolfe and other leaders, while acknowledging the messiness of Columbia River Crossing decision-making, see a new Interstate 5 bridge as a main ingredient of Clark County’s future prosperity. The project, aimed at speeding freight and commuters, and producing a safer link between Portland and Vancouver, is expected to generate 1,900 jobs per year during construction. But their critics aim to sink the proposed CRC, in part because the $3.4 billion Interstate 5 Bridge replacement project will bring light rail into Clark County. If they’re successful, CRC opponents will tear into the very fabric of the leadership elite’s sense of what the county needs to thrive.
If Wolfe and other longtime leaders are frustrated, the county’s anti-establishment political activists are energized. They are unified in their opposition to light rail, which Columbia River Crossing leaders say is integral to project funding. The CRC, with its planning mishaps and cost overruns, and its need for cash from state and local taxpayers as well as tolls from bridge users is, says opponent Larry Patella, “the biggest pocket-picking scheme ever.”
But the vision of project opponents for solving Clark County’s chronic transportation problems is less clear — express buses, perhaps, or a third Columbia River bridge that nobody in control of transportation purse strings is even talking about.
Local officials in Clark County and the area’s state lawmakers are under pressure from state and federal officials, including the governors of Washington and Oregon, to stop squabbling and strike a deal, however imperfect. But compromise remains elusive. The impasse spills into other areas of civic life — most notably, in discussions of how Clark County should grow as it recovers from the bruising economic crash. Whether or not the Columbia River Crossing is built anytime soon, the question for both sides looms: Where do we go from here?