Wednesday, January 20, 2021
Jan. 20, 2021

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Press Talk: Who doesn’t like a bridge?

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Fortunately for Vancouver, the celebrations are not over!

On Jan. 24 (dramatic pause required here), the brand spanking new east county bridge will be open to traffic!

Sure, Christmas and the new year were good. And electing uber-liberal Temple Lentz to join four Republicans on the county council should be a real hoot!

But a new bridge is the best!

Gov. Jay Inslee surely will be here. Unless, of course, he still thinks he has a shot at being president. If so, he might end up on the other side of the country at Lake Winnipesaukee fishing for pickerel and early votes. I’m kidding! He knows the math. He’ll be here.

All the local dignitaries will show up. I even hear former state Sen. Don Benton — who has some sort of job in D.C. at which he gets paid a lot of money to not do much — will show. He loves photo ops and free food.

Yep, there will be fireworks and confetti and all the government workers will get a day off. With pay.

The first car over the bridge? A red Tesla, of course. After all, this east county bridge was the vision of then-County Commissioner David Madore. Toll-free to boot! I’m not kidding!

I take a little bit of credit for this getting done, because Madore announced the project at a meeting I put together just about five years ago. I managed to get Madore and then-Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt in the same room to talk with me. Leavitt would later conclude he was nothing more than eye candy and the goal was for me to interview Madore. Oh my! Well, Leavitt does look pretty good in those tailor-made Portland suits.

Anyway, it was at that Jan. 24, 2014, meeting when I asked this:

“If we were sitting here five years from now, what would we be talking about relative to some infrastructure change — Columbia River?”

Madore didn’t hesitate.

“I think we’d be standing there at the East County Bridge saying ‘And they said we couldn’t build it.’ No kidding. And it’s toll-free.”

I was so impressed with Madore’s audacious prediction, I had us create a countdown clock just to keep the guy focused. We put it on our website (check this column online for a link) which allowed him and everyone else to track the progress of the build-out. It also allowed readers to comment on the entire thing.

There were skeptics of course. There always are.

One such naysayer was former Vancouver Mayor Royce Pollard. Now let’s be honest. Pollard was a showman from the beginning. A straight shooter for sure. But he always had a flare for the dramatic. Why, once he was so upset that Vancouver Starbucks stores were selling Portland coffee mugs he marched down there, bought a Portland mug, took it outside and smashed it on the sidewalk. (He made sure he had a broom nearby to clean up the mess.)

So Pollard showed up at a county commissioners meeting two months after Madore made his announcement, to give him his view.

“If you build a bridge in five years, six years or seven years, I will kiss your butt in downtown Vancouver on Main Street during daytime.”

Oh my!

•••

Oh wait. Hold on. I’m getting some new information. I’m being told now that Madore will miss his deadline. Wait. There’s more. Not only will he not meet his deadline, the dang east county bridge hasn’t even begun!

What the. … How did I miss all of this? Guess I’ve been posting too many food pictures to Facebook.

•••

OK, let’s be fair, an east county bridge isn’t a bad idea. It’s actually a good idea. But timing is everything, and it was clearly the wrong time five years ago. Opening that discussion up back then simply muddied the water in Vancouver’s attempt to get an Interstate 5 replacement bridge moving.

And although I suspect the east county bridge chatter back then wasn’t the main reason talks for a new I-5 bridge collapsed, it was a player.

So here we are today, five years later. Ironically, there now is a contingent of politicians who are trying to revive the discussion on an I-5 bridge replacement. Maybe even a peek at an east county bridge, as well.

I spoke with state Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, Friday about these new bridge talks.

Rivers is a key player in all of this because she was instrumental in getting an I-5 bridge replacement killed five years ago.

So what has changed for her?

“I’ve reframed my thinking to exclude the congestion piece of it.”

That’s important, because the back-and-forth on bridge replacement over congestion relief was a huge distraction, she said.

“Who cares if it doesn’t reduce congestion? We need a new bridge.”

She’s right, of course. There are plenty of other reasons to replace the aging Interstate 5 Bridge. And as Rivers noted, a new bridge should reduce traffic accidents, which will reduce congestion.

Rivers agreed that five years ago talking about an east county bridge was a distraction. And although it’s OK to note it in discussions today, she said the focus must be on replacing the Interstate 5 Bridge.

When I asked her about light rail, she said it could be a deal-breaker for her. It’s old technology, and she believes younger people are trending against it.

There are others, of course, who oppose light rail, but she’s not sure if there are enough votes to get it approved over their objections.

Another contentious issue­— tolls to help pay for a new bridge — is not something that should derail the project, Rivers said.

She’s not opposed to tolls, in part, because it’s a bedrock conservative view.

“You use it, you pay for it.”

I concluded my conversation with her by asking where we’ll be five years from now.

“We should be on our way to construction.”

Let’s hope so.

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