With some reluctance, the Clark County Council became the latest local government to approve a resolution calling for the replacement of the Interstate 5 Bridge.
The council now joins the city of Vancouver and local ports in voicing support for the replacing the bridge and calling on state officials to provide funding for the project. Last year, Washington lawmakers attempted to restart talks with their Oregon counterparts about replacing the bridge, which is considered outdated.
The resolution passed by the council notes the Interstate 5 corridor’s “national significance” and importance to commerce. Calling the bridge “functionally obsolete,” it states that the segment of I-5 between Vancouver and Portland experiences some of the worst congestion along the entire length of the corridor and sees frequent crashes. The resolution specifically calls for a lane for bus-rapid transit and improvements to bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.
Clark County’s resolution came after nearly a month of debate by councilors about its exact wording. Councilors Jeanne Stewart and Eileen Quiring criticized the resolution for being too reactive, tacitly supporting tolls and not calling for more lanes.
“This is an inadequate solution to the problem,” said Stewart, who cast the only vote against the resolution. She faulted the resolution for not calling for more capacity and said it fell short by not laying the groundwork for a third crossing connecting Clark County to Oregon.
Stewart previously served on the Vancouver City Council when the Columbia River Crossing, a proposed replacement bridge that died in 2013, was being considered. The project drew significant local opposition for including light rail and remains controversial. During the meeting, Stewart repeated her concerns that the resolution could later be used to support a substantially different project.
Councilors John Blom and Julie Olson pushed back on Stewart’s suggestion that the county’s resolution was a “piggyback” on the resolution passed by Vancouver. Blom said the new bridge would need federal funding, which he said would come with certain requirements such as high-capacity transit. He said the replacement bridge would need to last for another 100 years and should consider not just vehicles but also transit, bikes and pedestrian traffic.
Quiring, who is running for council chair, voted for the resolution even though she stated she would prefer one or two more crossings. She said she was still concerned about how potential tolls on a new bridge would affect low-income commuters. She pointed out that she pressed for language to be added to the resolution that called for a “fiscally responsible bridge replacement that considers the financial impact to working families of Clark County.”
“That phrase is as close as we could get to ‘no tolls,’ ” she said. She also called for collaboration with Oregon on the bridge.
Council Chair Marc Boldt took the opportunity to criticize the federal government for not taking more leadership on replacing the bridge, which he said has put local governments “in a terrible situation for the last 20 years.”
He said that the county began making preparations for the Interstate 205 Bridge decades before it was built, a time when Clark County was less populated and had more open space.
“When we do a third bridge, we’ll be tearing down houses right and left,” he said.
The council also approved an update to the county’s code, removing many regulations on manufactured and modular homes. The update is part of a county initiative to expand housing options.
The update brings the county’s code in line with state and federal law and allows manufactured homes to be placed on individual lots.