Sunday, June 26, 2022
June 26, 2022

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In Our View: Light rail on I-5 Bridge right for today, tomorrow

The Columbian
Published:

Including light rail on a new Interstate 5 Bridge is the best decision for both the present and the future. Among transit options for the project spanning the Columbia River, light rail can serve the most people while closely aligning with the region’s climate goals.

As reported by The Columbian, officials from the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program last week said that light rail will be part of the plan for a new bridge. That, however, will not be greeted with universal approval. The proposed inclusion of light rail has been controversial, and the enmity it generated was instrumental in the failure of the Columbia River Crossing proposal of a decade ago.

But if our community is going to prepare for the future, generate maximum economic benefits, ease travel across the river as much as possible and sincerely strive to achieve climate goals, light rail is the best option. That is the conclusion of intense study from experts and elected officials, and their insight should carry more weight than what somebody on Facebook claims to know.

One suggested alternative is to not include transit on the bridge and to increase the number of traffic-bearing lanes. The realities of climate change provide an impenetrable argument against that suggestion. Planning to have more people driving more cars 50 years from now would be akin to digging while trying to get out of a hole.

Another possible alternative is extending C-Tran’s bus rapid transit system across the bridge and into Portland. The Columbian has editorially recommended this proposal, arguing that infrastructure is in place on this side of the river and that buses provide more destination alternatives than light rail.

Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, quickly decried Thursday’s decision to reject bus rapid transit. “This decision flies in the face of Southwest Washington voters who have soundly and repeatedly rejected bringing Portland’s light rail to Washington state,” she wrote in a statement.

But unlike some critics, The Columbian’s Editorial Board can adjust its opinion to meet changing realities.

Viewing diesel-spewing buses as a long-term method for fighting climate change no longer makes sense; it is clear that strong action is needed, sooner rather than later. And development throughout downtown Vancouver over the past decade has altered the dynamics of a transit plan. No longer will light rail be simply a conduit for commuters from Vancouver to Portland; now, it will also bring visitors to a vibrant, inviting downtown and waterfront on this side of the river.

That being said, it is essential to consider the concerns of Clark County residents. Local voters, taxpayers and decision-makers at this point have no input over the Portland area’s MAX light-rail system; it is understandable that those residents would consider light rail to be an invasion by our neighbor to the south. Some measure of local control will be essential to generating public support.

The bottom line, however, is that light rail will accommodate more passengers and provide more trips across the river than would bus rapid transit. If the primary goal of building a new bridge is to ease the flow of traffic between the states, it stands as the best option. Light rail can carry 266 passengers in a two-car train, while a bus can hold 100 passengers.

The math adds up to a strong argument in favor of light rail, and the result is a formula that will best serve residents both now and decades from now.

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