Tuesday, April 13, 2021
April 13, 2021

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Jayne: Kraft plan bridge to nowhere

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It’s kind of like planning a wedding, with one major caveat. You set a date and hire a caterer and order flowers and pick a DJ — and then you hope to find a spouse.

Sounds backward, doesn’t it? Because if you want to dance at the reception, you’re going to need a partner.

And still, state Rep. Vicki Kraft is pushing for a third bridge across the Columbia River. The Vancouver Republican has introduced a bill that would direct $300,000 for the Legislature’s Joint Transportation Committee to hire a consultant for exploring the possibility of a crossing to the west of Interstate 5.

On its face, it’s not a bad idea; the metro area needs a third bridge — and a fourth one — across the Columbia; Clark County has nearly 500,000 residents and crossings built for 200,000. A consultant could help answer questions about how to avoid the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge on this side of the river and Forest Park on the other side. But without a partner, efforts will amount to a bridge to nowhere.

“We did have a meeting with Oregon, and there was no interest,” Chuck Green said of a third bridge, reminiscing about those long-ago days when Washington and Oregon officials were courting each other and trying to replace the Interstate 5 crossing. “They’re very protective of their Urban Growth Boundary.”

In other words, Oregon is not going to allow Washington to build a bridge wherever it sees fit. There are other problems, as well. “Nobody has mentioned transit; the west bridge was even tougher to find a transit component,” Green said.

Green has spent nearly 40 years working on transportation issues in the area, about half of those in government positions. And while romantics might dream of saying “I want a third bridge” and having suitors come flocking, he has a better understanding than most of the intricacies involved. “Right now,” he said of a third bridge option, “it’s not on anybody’s transportation plan on either side of the river.”

Right now, it’s difficult to get the states talking about something old like the I-5 Bridge, let alone something new such as a third bridge. When the Washington Legislature — led by then-Sen. Don Benton and still-Sen. Ann Rivers — broke up with Oregon over the Columbia River Crossing project in 2013, it created a rift that still hasn’t healed. The states are gingerly entering negotiations about I-5 again, but any solutions are years away; hurt feelings take time to mend.

More important, there is every reason to believe a third-bridge proposal would be a deal-breaker for the Oregon side. Our neighbors to the south have expressed no desire to welcome an interstate freeway through St. Helens to the west or Troutdale to the east. Oregon lawmaker Rich Vial promoted a west-side crossing in recent years; he lost a re-election bid in November after one term in the House, which might or might not reflect Oregonians’ thoughts about a third bridge.

A distraction

And so, Kraft’s proposal seems particularly Pollyannaish while distracting from the more pressing issue that is the I-5 Bridge. Notably, the bill has attracted only three co-sponsors — including two from Spokane Valley who believe that Washington should be split into two states. Which might or might not reflect the Legislature’s thoughts about a third bridge.

Kraft told The Columbian: “Simply upgrading or replacing the I-5 Bridge would not provide the congestion relief needed on this commuter and freight corridor. That’s because the freeway comes to a bottleneck on the Oregon side.”

True. But it seems it will be easier to address that problem as part of a comprehensive Interstate 5 plan rather than dressing up a third bridge proposal and waiting for Oregon officials to meet us at the altar.

As Green said: “You have to get the politicians on the Washington side together.”

Instead, Vicki Kraft is choosing to dance by herself.

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