Tuesday, March 21, 2023
March 21, 2023

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Clark County Council settles on I-5 Bridge resolution text

By , Columbian political reporter

The Clark County Council agreed Wednesday on the text of a resolution supporting the replacement of the Interstate 5 Bridge after tussling over how specific it should be regarding added lanes and tolls that could be part of the project.

“We’re not designing a project; we’re not designing a bridge,” Councilor John Blom said during a meeting Wednesday.

But Councilor Jeanne Stewart, noting that she had “10 years of rodeo,” said generalized statements can be used to support what ends up becoming a very different project with serious financial implications.

“I’m going to buy a hat for myself today, and in about three years or four years, if we don’t see mutation in whatever we thought was our best effort here, I’m going to eat that hat,” said Stewart.

The resolution was finalized at the council’s Wednesday meeting and will be brought up for a formal vote at its Tuesday meeting.

The resolution before the Clark County Council is similar to one passed unanimously by the Vancouver City Council in August. Both resolutions note the significance of the I-5 corridor and how “severe congestion” between Vancouver and Portland affects the “efficient movement of people and freight.” Both resolutions note the inadequacy of bistate public transit to serve the area and call for new investments in bike and pedestrian infrastructure.

The Columbia River Crossing, a proposed replacement bridge that was terminated in 2013, included light rail. Clark County’s resolution explicitly supports bus rapid transit with a dedicated lane as the preferred means of high-capacity transit. The resolution also calls on the replacement to relieve traffic congestion on the I-5 Bridge.

When the county council began considering the resolution in August, both Stewart and Councilor Eileen Quiring expressed misgivings. At the council’s Aug. 29 meeting, Lindsey Shafar, the council’s senior legislative assistant, was directed to add specific language to the resolution regarding transit and congestion in response to their concerns.

The revised resolution presented on Wednesday also included language calling for a “fiscally responsible bridge replacement that considers the financial impact to working families of Clark County” and for any revenue to be used for its cost and maintenance.

But at Wednesday’s meeting, Quiring expressed unease with the language about fiscal responsibility and how revenue would be used.

“I’m uncomfortable with saying, ‘We’re OK with, you know, you’re going to pay for it,'” said Quiring. “We’ll be careful about your financial situation, but we’re expecting you to pay for it.”

Quiring and Stewart also raised concerns that the resolution essentially gave the county’s consent to tolling.

“The statement, then, from the Clark County Council will end up being, ‘We don’t care if there are tolls for our citizens, because we are not objecting to them,'” said Stewart.

Both Quiring and Stewart also complained that the resolution didn’t call for additional lanes for motor vehicles.

The rest of the council questioned the necessity of further revision to the resolution and were comfortable keeping it a general statement that they said would send a message, along with local ports and city of Vancouver, to state officials.

After more debate, the council agreed to include language about adding lanes and removed language about how revenue generated would be used for construction and maintenance of the bridge.

Columbian political reporter