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Thursday, September 28, 2023
Sept. 28, 2023

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Transportation council backs replacement for I-5 Bridge

RTC board supports crossing with high-capacity transit

By , Columbian staff writer

The Southwest Washington Regional Transportation Council Board of Directors passed a resolution supporting the replacement of the Interstate 5 Bridge with high-capacity transit with a dedicated guideway.

The resolution, which was passed during the RTC’s meeting Tuesday evening, cites the crossing’s significance to the Vancouver-Portland metro area, the I-5 corridor, the West Coast and the nation, as well as the crippling traffic congestion it’s plagued with.

It also notes the I-5 Bridge lacks high-capacity transit “with a dedicated guideway” and that “existing bi-state public transit, ” i.e., C-Tran, “is inadequate to meet demand … and operates in mixed-traffic, which has significant negative impacts on performance and operational outcomes.”

The resolution describes the I-5 Bridge spans as functionally obsolete and not meeting current seismic standards. It voices RTC’s support for a “multimodal approach of highway, high-capacity transit, and bicycle and pedestrian improvements to support the region’s travel needs.” It also urges Gov. Jay Inslee and the Legislature to give the Washington State Department of Transportation enough money to advance a replacement project.

The resolution was brought forth by board member and Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle, who has been galvanizing regional support for a replacement bridge.

She cautioned other directors not to get hung up on the details of the design and look of the project, but rather to focus on restarting conversations between Oregon and Washington.

“We purposely did not discuss what color the tiles are or the lights or anything else. We want the conversation to start moving forward on the project, and we’ve had significant support from Oregon to come back to the table,” she said.

Clark County Councilors Jeanne Stewart and Eileen Quiring both said they wouldn’t support the resolution.

Stewart said the resolution understated the significance of the corridor to all traffic on the West Coast.

Quiring criticized the resolution for not specifically mentioning bus rapid transit when referencing a dedicated guideway for mass transit and making no mention of capacity or how the project would be funded.

The RTC is the latest local government body to support a replacement bridge. The Vancouver City Council, Port of Vancouver, Camas, Clark County Council and several others have passed resolutions urging Inslee and the Legislature to put funds into a new crossing.

RTC Executive Director Matt Ransom noted that several of the governing bodies on which RTC’s directors serve made various modifications to the resolutions they passed, but noted that they all kept to the fundamental theme of asking state officials to take the next step.

Clark County Council Chair Marc Boldt asked what the “dedicated guideway would actually look like in a new bridge project.”

“It’s got to start somewhere and stop somewhere … are we saying the project is larger than the bridge,” he said.

C-Tran CEO Shawn Donaghy said he expected that 85 percent of the guideway would be on the bridge, with the rest being an entrance and exit that would allow bus rapid transit to get in and out of its service areas.

McEnerny-Ogle said she plans to meet with Inslee and bring him “a teal blue notebook” full of bridge replacement resolutions from Southwest Washington. Additionally, local leaders plan to lobby legislators to dedicate resources to the project.

Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, said the region’s legislative delegation is putting its weight into the project. He said the delegation plans to meet with leaders from the Oregon House of Representatives in November, Oregon’s next governor following the election, and Inslee in the future.

“We believe things are progressing well and the delegation supports all of what you’re getting done to support this project,” he said.

The RTC has previously shown support for replacing the bridge through various resolutions, endorsements and action plans. And, according to RTC documents, the “resolution is consistent with the existing Regional Transportation Plan, which identifies a regional project priority for construction of an I-5 Bridge replacement project and regional transit improvement within the 20-year planning horizon.”

Columbian staff writer