Sunday, June 13, 2021
June 13, 2021

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In Our View: Back to Square One

It's time to put partisan divides aside, and develop ideas to replace I-5 Bridge

The Columbian
Published:

There is an aphorism in here somewhere. Maybe something about falling off a horse and getting back on. Or something about quitters never winning and winners never quitting. Or, to quote Winston Churchill, maybe a reminder that we must “Never, never, never give up.”

Regardless of which cliché we choose to embrace, the point is that lawmakers, local officials and residents should not give up on devising and developing a replacement for the Interstate 5 Bridge. The need is too great. The impact on the economy is too extensive. The role that a new bridge would play in defining Clark County for generations to come is too important. Many skeptics say the current bridge is sturdy and safe and will remain that way for decades. And while they dismiss the need for a new crossing, they will have plenty of time to admire the current structure as they inch along at 5 mph, pondering how the incessant traffic jams are limiting commerce and development in the area.

Yet, while we remain committed to finding a solution for a bridge that serves as a stoplight for many of the 124,000 vehicles that cross it each day, the difficulty comes in agreeing upon a solution — as if the past 15 years or so of political wrangling has not reminded us of that. To that end, state Rep. Liz Pike, R-Camas; Rep. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver; and Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, have raised an idea up the flagpole to see who salutes. The suggestion is for a “flyover” that would cross the river near the I-5 Bridge, connecting with the interstate near Mill Plain Boulevard on the Vancouver side of the river and near Portland Meadows on the Portland side — bypassing some of the more congested interchanges.

“This is one option,” Pike said. “I’m certainly open to listening to other ideas.” With that, Pike effectively distilled the difficulty in moving forward with a replacement for the I-5 Bridge.

Ever since Republicans in the state Senate — with Rivers at the forefront — rejected the Columbia River Crossing proposal, political and community leaders have been at a loss for how to proceed. Clark County Councilor David Madore has unilaterally worked on developing an east county bridge, but that can be dismissed because it does not address the problem — the I-5 corridor — and because it is absurdly unrealistic.

That being said, we typically are loath to judge any plan as unrealistic. There are many reasons to find fault with the proposal from Pike and her fellow legislators, and yet it is a proposal. It is an idea. It is an attempt to find a solution and generate the discussions we should be having in this community, in Oregon and in Olympia. Failure, it has been said, is not an option, and the only failure regarding the Interstate 5 Bridge comes when we stop discussing possible solutions.

State Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, has cast a skeptical eye toward the “flyover” proposal and has complained that failing to revive the CRC means “we go back to square one.” The defeat of the CRC was difficult for Democrats in the Legislature to swallow, yet swallow they must. It is time to acknowledge that the proposal is dead and buried; it is time to go back to square one in order to start moving forward again. The key — for lawmakers and for everybody who was invested in the CRC — is to get past the politics involved and to judge proposals on their own merits. Pike’s idea might or might not be able to stand on those merits, but it should not collapse under the weight of partisanship.

Scuttling an idea through partisan bickering, after all, would amount to nothing more than giving up.

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