While the issue of replacing the Interstate 5 Bridge is expected to come up in the legislative session underway in Olympia, one Clark County lawmaker has other ideas.
State Rep. Vicki Kraft, R-Vancouver, has introduced legislation that would lay the groundwork for a third bridge across the Columbia River.
The legislation, House Bill 1835, would direct $300,000 for the Legislature’s Joint Transportation Committee to hire a consultant to look into options for an additional bridge or connection west of I-5 linking Southwest Washington and Oregon. Kraft, who was elected to a second term in November, argues that a third bridge is the best way to relieve congestion for the estimated 70,000 Clark County residents who commute to Oregon.
Since the 2013 demise of the Columbia River Crossing, a proposed replacement of the I-5 Bridge, Clark County lawmakers have converged on reviving efforts to replace the century-old structure. Kraft has remained an outlier.
“Simply upgrading or replacing the I-5 Bridge would not provide the congestion relief needed on this commuter and freight corridor,” Kraft said in a written statement. “That’s because the freeway comes to a bottleneck on the Oregon side.”
But the focus from Olympia has remained on replacing the I-5 Bridge since 2017, when Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill, backed by most of Clark County’s legislative delegation, that established a framework to restart talks with Oregon. In December, Oregon and Washington lawmakers held their first public talks about replacing the bridge.
Inslee included $17.5 million in his proposed budget for an office for the I-5 Bridge replacement project. Tara Lee, a spokeswoman for Inslee, said that the bridge is a major seismic risk and traffic bottleneck for the region and nation. She said that the governor “encourages lawmakers to join him in advancing a bistate effort that moves this critical project forward.”
During the 2018 legislative session, Kraft introduced a bill co-sponsored with then-Rep. Liz Pike, R-Camas, to look into a third bridge. The bill didn’t get a hearing.
No hearing has been scheduled for Kraft’s current bill.