Sen. Ann Rivers hosted three town hall meetings Saturday in Clark County to explain why she’s the only local senator to support a proposed $15 billion state transportation package.
Dozens gathered throughout the day in Ridgefield, Battle Ground and Camas to listen to the La Center Republican and ask questions about a variety of key legislative issues from oil train safety and marijuana regulation to the big question of how the state will find enough money for education.
Most of the talk hovered around transportation issues, touching often on how Southwest Washington moves forward from a failed fight to replace the Interstate 5 Bridge.
The latest transportation package proposal passed out of the Senate on a 27-22 vote this month, with Vancouver Sens. Don Benton and Annette Cleveland — a Republican and a Democrat, respectively — standing against the measure. The package awaits a vote in the House, where Rivers said she’s confident she can push legislators to adopt an amendment to add funding for a major road project in north Clark County.
Rivers — who sits on the Senate Transportation Committee with Benton and Cleveland — said it wasn’t easy to support the package.
“It’s scary to stand out there by yourself and take that vote by yourself in your region,” Rivers said.
But when it came time to vote, Rivers said, she thought of how many of her constituents work for local excavation contractors, alluding to a number of companies doing projects in Camas. All of them, she said, would have a hand in building major transportation projects throughout the state.
“I thought to myself, ‘All of the people who work for them live in Southwest Washington and would be employed by this,’ and that was a real bonus to me,” she said.
As it stands, the bill includes about $160 million for highway projects in Clark County, and another $6 million for rail and transit upgrades. About half of that would go toward building a new interchange at Interstate 5 and Mill Plain Boulevard.
Though it’s not a part of the Senate plan yet, Rivers said she has a promise from Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, to add funding to rebuild the 179th Street/I-5 interchange. The project is estimated to cost about $50 million, and county officials consider it one of the most important economic developments needed to draw new businesses to Clark County in the coming years.
“I received a commitment from Sen. King — and he’s never, ever, not held up on one of his commitments to me … that we would get 179th and Northeast 10th done,” she said.
Included among the list of allocations for Clark County is $35 million for widening state Highway 14 between Interstate 205 and Southeast 164th Avenue, and $21.4 million for upgrades to the Camas Slough Bridge on Highway 14.
Camas Mayor Scott Higgins — who attended the Camas town hall along with a number of other local officials — commended Rivers for helping to move the bill forward, despite any political damage it may have caused her.
“I know taking votes like this are not fun,” Higgins said. “But I hope what people realize is, this package includes a tremendous amount of infrastructure projects for Camas and Washougal that we would not be able to fund without state help.”
Elsewhere around the county, the plan includes $7.7 million for widening Main Street/state Highway 502 in Battle Ground, $7.3 million to help complete a railroad overpass at Ridgefield’s waterfront and $6 million for upgrades to state Highway 501 from I-5 to the Port of Vancouver.