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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.

In Our View: Make Bridge Talks Priority

If Pike really wants progress on I-5 span, she must step to sidelines on issue

The Columbian
Published: February 16, 2016, 6:01am

It is disconcerting that Clark County legislators cannot secure even $100,000 to jump-start discussions about the Interstate 5 Bridge.

House Bill 2414, which would carve out that amount for a coalition of lawmakers from Washington and Oregon to talk about the vital river crossing, appears to have met its demise in the 2016 Washington Legislature. The bill, championed by Reps. Liz Pike, R-Camas, and Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver, is a relatively minor request in the realm of state funding — which leads to questions of why lawmakers would thumb their nose at it. That calls for a little analysis of what will be required to rekindle discussion regarding a new bridge across the Columbia River, and any such analysis must begin with the involvement of Pike, who three years ago played a role in scuttling the Columbia River Crossing proposal that would have built a new I-5 bridge.

Last month, Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt sent an email to Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, House Transportation Committee chair, outlining his concern with the latest proposal. Pulling no punches, Leavitt wrote that Pike’s involvement “results in an immediate recoil from the political, business and community leadership who are desiring to reach a collaborative and realistic resolution for this regional transportation challenge.”

In an interview with The Columbian, Leavitt added: “Quite frankly, (Pike) can’t be trusted not to do the same thing she did before. And that’s subvert the public process that occurred for years: public hearings, public votes, and a lot of money studying an improvement on the I-5 corridor. … I don’t think it’s a surprise to anybody that’s following politics and following issues in our region that Liz Pike has become toxic in her efforts to move things forward.”

Leavitt, for his part, also warrants criticism when it comes to the I-5 corridor. He initially was elected mayor while running on a platform of opposing tolls on the proposed crossing, and reversed course once in office. But when it comes to Pike’s involvement with any proposal, his assessment is accurate.

Pike’s adamant opposition to the Columbia River Crossing — and her opposition to a gas-tax increase approved last year to fund roads projects — damages her credibility when it comes to transportation issues. She also appears more interested in discussing a third bridge in the Vancouver-Portland area — a bridge supported by Clark County Councilor David Madore — rather than supporting the I-5 crossing that was vetted through a lengthy public process. In supporting House Bill 2414 this year, Pike said: “Everyone agrees that it’s time to move forward and not dwell on the past. And how refreshing is that?” A feel-good notion, but not a realistic one. The fact is that Pike’s previous actions regarding infrastructure have, indeed, rendered her toxic when it comes to leading the way on transportation efforts.

All of this could be denigrated as the dark side of politics, and yet it is the reality of the situation. Although Pike elicited support for the bistate commission from all other Southwest Washington members of the House — a fact that reinforces the benefits of the idea — it quickly became clear that she is the wrong person to be at the forefront of the effort. And if Washington lawmakers feel this way, her participation would be anathema to Oregon leaders who still feel the sting from the CRC’s demise.

Yes, Washington and Oregon need to begin playing ball regarding a new I-5 bridge across the Columbia River. But Pike should step to the sidelines for the process to have any chance of moving forward.