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Dec. 3, 2022

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In Our View: Inslee a Poor Bridge Player

Governor’s declaration about light rail on I-5 span costs Clark County an advantage

The Columbian
Published:

Gov. Jay Inslee should heed our advice, as well. Bringing preconceived notions into discussions about a replacement Interstate 5 Bridge will doom the project to failure.

On Thursday, during a preview of the legislative session that begins today, Inslee said light rail will be included on a new bridge or the project will not advance.

Oregon officials have insisted that an extension of Portland’s MAX system be part of any bridge replacement, and Inslee said, “What I want to make clear, though, is that the Southwest Washington community needs to come together around a consensus. At the moment, unless Oregon changes its view, you’re going to have to put light rail on the bridge if you want a bridge.”

While we agree about the need for consensus and while the statement might be true, it does not mark Inslee as much of a poker player. The governor who represents the people of Clark County would be wise to keep his cards closer to the vest.

Clark County residents have opposed light rail several times at the ballot box, and local state senators led efforts that killed the proposed Columbia River Crossing in 2013. Inslee should recognize that opposition and use it for the advantage of people on this side of the Columbia River. If Oregon representatives insist on light rail, perhaps Washington negotiators can strike a deal. Bring light rail into Clark County in exchange for firm deals on a third and fourth Columbia River crossing, for vast improvements to the Rose Quarter corridor through Portland, and for an agreement that Oregon will drop plans for tolls on Interstate 5 and Interstate 205 near the state line.

Instead, Inslee has publicly stated a reality that would be best left to closed-door sessions with lawmakers from Clark County.

Previously, the governor said his assumption that light rail will be included was designed to show Oregon and federal officials that Washington is sincere about pursuing a solution. That was a reasonable position, and The Columbian editorially supported the governor for it. We also criticized local Republican lawmakers for their opposition to that stance. “Inslee has stressed that he is open to ideas regarding transit across the bridge, and local representatives would better serve their constituents by taking him at his word and offering alternatives rather than immediately reacting with criticism,” we wrote.

Inslee’s statement Thursday tossed away any advantage this state has in negotiations about a new bridge. There is good reason to support light rail in Clark County, and The Columbian in the past has favored the move; but there also is good reason to oppose it, as many local residents do.

While you can find reasonable arguments on both sides of the issue, it is counterproductive at this point for the governor to show his hand rather than say, “Well, a lot of people are opposed to light rail … what can we give them in exchange?”

Of course, all of this is just the beginning of a long process. Discussions only recently restarted, and they likely will take unexpected turns. But in the end, questions about light rail are certain to be at the center of any eventual agreement, and bringing preconceived notions or conceding defeat at this early juncture poorly serves the residents of Clark County.

Inslee should pay attention to that advice before capitulating to demands from Oregon regarding the Interstate 5 Bridge.

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