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News / Politics / Clark County Politics

Clark County Council: Yes to Interstate 5 Bridge, no to tolls

Lentz, Olson raise concerns, vote against resolution

By Shari Phiel, Columbian staff writer
Published: September 23, 2021, 6:22pm

Clark County is ready to lend its support to the Interstate 5 Bridge replacement project, but it had some specific requests for the group overseeing the project. In a 3-2 vote, the county council on Wednesday passed a resolution in support of the project based on a list of specific outcomes the county wants to see.

Among the requests, and for some most importantly, is that tolls not be part of the plan.

Along with ensuring bridge tolls are not required to build, operate or maintain the bridge, the council also wants design options that significantly reduce traffic congestion, shorten peak traffic periods, eliminate the lift span on the bridge, decrease the number of traffic accidents and ensure the bridge survives a “large seismic event” such as the predicted Cascadia quake.

Voting against the resolution were Councilors Temple Lentz and Julie Olson. Both councilors said they support the bridge project but had concerns about some elements in the resolution.

“Saying we are against all tolls is … not engaging in a reality-based discussion,” Lentz said during Wednesday’s council meeting. “It’s not that I love the idea of tolls — I don’t think anybody does — but I think simply saying ‘no’ removes our ability to productively participate in the conversation and work on mitigating impacts for our residents.”

Olson thought it would be more appropriate to discuss the resolution at a regular council meeting.

“I think this is an important statement that the council wants to make,” Olson said.

While Clark County is not part of the bridge replacement committee, Councilor Gary Medvigy said it isn’t completely voiceless. Medvigy and Lentz both serve on the Regional Transportation Council.

“It’s important for the council to speak up on behalf of the county,” Medvigy said. “The commute is getting longer, it lasts longer and the impacts to secondary roads are getting farther and farther away. We have to start planning for another corridor now.”

Lentz said she’s concerned language in the resolution will portray them as unwilling to compromise. Tolls may be inevitable, she said, but the county can still influence how they are used and possibly how they affect drivers from Southwest Washington.

Tensions over a tolling plan for the bridge are likely to continue. U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, has previously been highly critical of tolling, especially during the prior bridge replacement project. Herrera Beutler has said tolls unfairly impact Washington residents while benefiting Oregon residents.

In a news conference Thursday afternoon, Gov. Jay Inslee said he is working with lawmakers on a transportation package that would, among other things, provide funding for a new Interstate 5 Bridge over the Columbia River. Inslee also said he would support a special session if a plan could be finalized.