Sarah Palin is back, and so is another discussion of a Columbia River bridge. Both evoke strong emotions that are sometimes detached from reality.
State Rep. Sharon Wylie, a Vancouver Democrat, and Rep. Liz Pike of Camas, a Republican, want the Legislature to spend $100,000 on a new discussion of replacing the Interstate 5 Bridge. But any talk of a bridge with light rail will face the usual chorus of critics who succeeded in killing off the old Columbia River Crossing. One has to wonder if any of them are among the thousands who wile away the hours every day traveling to and from jobs in Oregon.
Getting a new bridge would be an uphill battle, as it’s always been. Washington and Oregon legislative leaders are skeptical about whether Southwest Washington will rally politically behind a project that accommodates some form of transit, a key issue for Oregon. Everyone is tired of the endless debate that encases a vital transportation improvement project in a toxic envelope of fear and hostility toward Portland and light rail.
Unfortunately, the problem of trying to move people and goods across the Columbia won’t go a way if we just ignore it. And we know that opposition to rail can’t be wished away, either. After all, opponents wouldn’t get much traction if they weren’t raising legitimate issues about construction costs, tolls, the effectiveness of rail transit, and the potential for reducing congestion in a corridor without much room to grow.
But what if we step back and take a fresh look at what might work as a new Columbia River crossing, now that we’re free from the baggage of the failed project of the past?