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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: A Taxing Commute

Thursday’s traffic jam points once again to need for action on I-5

The Columbian
Published: July 27, 2016, 6:03am

According to our dictionary, one of the definitions of “tax” is “to impose a burden on; put a strain on.” By that token, some of the biggest taxpayers in Clark County must be the drivers and passengers in the 138,319 vehicles that crossed the Interstate 5 Bridge in June.

Those taxes went up considerably last Thursday, when an overnight crash on the bridge sent traffic into an eight-hour logjam. It’s easy and proper to blame part of the mess on the driver: a young woman who, at 3:25 a.m., struck a road construction truck in the southbound lanes of the bridge.

According to Portland police and several eyewitnesses, the driver fled, leaving her mother and a child inside a burning minivan. Both were rescued, but the accident investigation and cleanup took hours. It was 6:40 a.m. by the time all three lanes were open.

By that time, traffic was snarled to proportions seldom seen until it snows. On Interstate 5, the slowing started before Northeast 78th Street. Many motorists diverted to Interstate 205, only to face a traffic nightmare there. In downtown Vancouver, the traffic was so clogged that employees of Compass Coffee went from car to car handing out free cups of coffee. (No word on the restroom situation.) One motorist told The Columbian he’d spent three hours trying to drive from the Hudson’s Bay neighborhood to Portland, but by then had only made it as far as Eighth and Washington streets.

Of course, Thursday was an exceptional morning. But hey, folks, traffic is bad out there.

Here’s a statistic from the Southwest Washington Regional Transportation Council: In 2011, it took less than seven minutes to drive from state Highway 500 to Jantzen Beach during the morning rush hour. Today, the drive averages 25 minutes. And that’s before the infamous Rose Quarter bottleneck.

While not enshrined in the Bill of Rights, the freedom to move about the metro area is an important driver of our economy and a talisman of our quality of life. Put more directly, most people ain’t gonna put up with a 90-minute drive to and from work. Yet it just gets worse.

So in addition to that driver who caused the wreck, who’s apparently still at large, let’s place a little of the blame on our local political leadership. Since the demise of the Columbia River Crossing project, there’s been very little happening on this key issue, unless you count finger-pointing, obfuscation and posturing. For example, county Councilor David Madore’s “free” third bridge will open in less than 2 1/2 years if you believe the empty promise he made in 2014 after helping to kill the CRC.

We’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: We need real dialogue between our leaders and their Oregon counterparts. We share a metro area. We need to be flexible and willing to accept ideas, not ideology, from both sides of the river. Like it or not, we need to consider mass transit capacity, including light rail. We need to accept that users will have to pay a toll, rather than shift the entire burden onto the general base of taxpayers.

On the other side, Oregon’s leaders need to accept this bridge will have a lot of lanes for freight and passenger vehicles, even those with just one occupant. They need to understand that TriMet will need to negotiate a new agreement that spells out what limited powers it will have in Clark County. And they will need to agree to address that Rose Quarter mess.

Unfortunately, so far, the progress is as slow as the traffic was last Thursday.