Wednesday, December 11, 2019
Dec. 11, 2019

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Bridges dominate Vancouver’s federal priorities

I-5 Bridge replacement picks up steam as parties try to unite

The Columbian
Published: December 2, 2019, 8:38pm

Vancouver’s top federal policy priorities in 2020 revolve around bridges.

That applies to the Interstate 5 Bridge replacement, said Joel Rubin, a lobbyist who works to promote Vancouver’s interest in the nation’s capital. The bridge replacement project is just starting to pick up momentum again after a comparable project fell apart in 2013, and the renewed effort will likely push further in the coming year.

But it also applies to metaphorical bridges between Democrats and Republicans holding elected office, Rubin continued. Extreme partisanship is likely to trickle down to Vancouver and interfere with the city’s agenda in the coming year.

In his presentation to the Vancouver City Council on Monday evening, Rubin’s brightly sardonic opening communicated as much:

“Greetings,” he said, “from the swamp that is Washington, D.C.!”

He detailed a prioritized list of what city leaders should keep an eye on in 2020, including an upcoming transportation bill that could provide robust funding for an I-5 Bridge replacement and a $4 million grant to improve seismic resiliency at Water Station 5.

Eyes on infrastructure

Federal funding for an I-5 Bridge replacement will eventually come from a combination of sources, Rubin said.

The first is a new transportation reauthorization bill. The current bill was enacted in 2015 and is set to expire in September, opening up a chance to negotiate for more formula-based and competitive grants.

The New Bridge Program, which allocates $3.25 billion to failing bridges, is also a potential pot, Rubin continued. The program funds bridge projects that cost over $100 million and improve safety and access for ports along the national highway system.

“That is a really good fit for the I-5 Bridge replacement. We want to build on that,” he told the city
council.

In addition to bridge replacement, the city is casting its eyes toward a $10 million federal grant that would fund improvements to Southeast First Street — an attempt to expand a rural road into a major arterial that could support untapped economic development in east Vancouver.

Vancouver’s legislative priorities also include securing $600,000 to clean up brownfields along the Mill Plain Boulevard and Fourth Plain Boulevard corridors, as well as following through on an application for a $4 million seismic improvement grant to upgrade Water Station 5.

Coming down the line

Dec. 20 is going to be a busy day on Capitol Hill.

That’s the expiration date of the House’s stopgap spending bill passed on Nov. 19, a hard deadline that will force Congress to pass 12 annual spending bills for 2020 or shut down the government. But the sticking points that launched the longest government shutdown in the nation’s history earlier this year — namely, President Donald Trump’s insistence on funding for a southern border wall, and congressional Democrats’ refusal to allocate money to the project —­ are still in play.

“They’re a long way from coming to an agreement,” Rubin said. “I don’t think there’s going to be a resolution by Dec. 20.”

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It’s not unlikely we’ll see a repeat shutdown starting on Dec. 20, Rubin said. Coincidentally, that’s the same day that the House may vote to impeach the president, should they continue on their current path.

“You could have a full government shutdown and an impeachment trial happening in the Senate at the same time,” Rubin said.

That matters in Vancouver, Rubin continued, because the chaos could grind the gears of 2020 appropriations to a halt into February or even March.

As for relationships in Washington D.C., Rubin said, “I think they’re going to get a little bit worse before they get better.”

Why does the city have a lobbyist?

Since Rubin started promoting Vancouver’s interests in 2008, the city has secured $28 million in grant funding from the federal government. Last year, the city received federal dollars to aid in local safety improvement efforts, including a $938,000 grant to the Vancouver Fire Department for hazmat training and new breathing equipment.

Rubin’s official title is federal governmental affairs liaison. He works for CFM Strategic Communications, a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying firm, and also monitored legislative activity in Salem, Ore.

Every year, city leaders preview the recommended federal legislative agenda for the upcoming year, City Manager Eric Holmes said.

“It’s a pretty dynamic time in Washington, D.C.,” Holmes said.

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