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News / Opinion / Columns
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.

Local View: A third bridge is needed, not light rail

By Rep. Vicki Kraft
Published: December 15, 2019, 6:01am

It was a bright spot of my day to read The Columbian’s editorial page on Dec. 3, in which the newspaper publicly acknowledges that a “Single bridge won’t fix transportation issues.”

This is something I’ve been saying even before I was elected as state representative to the 17th Legislative District.

It was also refreshing to read the editorial words, “Additional bridges across the Columbia River will be necessary …”

I’ve long advocated for a third bridge solution separate from the current bridges that could help handle the freight traffic and provide congestion relief for commuters.

I’m somewhat disappointed, however, that The Columbian continues to pin its hopes on light rail, and even bus rapid transit, of which I have concerns.

Clark County voters have repeatedly opposed mass transit on the ballot. There is no real demand for mass transit in Clark County, as proven in C-Tran’s 2018 annual financial report, which shows that only $6,572,944 — about 9 percent of the agency’s funding of $71,657,517 — was paid by riders. That leaves 91 percent of the transit agency’s operations being subsidized by taxpayers.

Also, in a 2018 Pemco Insurance Company poll, a whopping 94 percent of Washington and Oregon residents said they preferred to drive to work as opposed to other modes of transportation. Most commuters are simply not going to abandon the use of their cars to get to work.

Desired results

A new study of the state’s most populous area — Puget Sound — by the Washington Policy Center confirms this. The report shows that “there is no potential, at any cost, for transit to materially reduce driving or to reduce traffic congestion in the Puget Sound.” There’s no reason to believe Clark County commuters would be any different.

As The Columbian noted, “an estimated 70,000 Clark County residents work in Oregon — enough to fill a new bridge almost from the moment it is completed.”

That’s one of two inescapable facts we need to recognize when moving forward on this vital issue. The other is that expensive light rail and even bus rapid transit would barely move the needle toward congestion relief. That means commuters would still be stuck in traffic. Why spend the money if we won’t get the results?

What is truly needed to reduce traffic congestion and move freight more efficiently on the I-5 corridor in Clark County and the Portland metro region is additional highway capacity in the form of a third bridge between Southwest Washington and Oregon. Let’s make this a center point of the discussions as both states consider the I-5 Bridge replacement and other options.