Clark County has a long wish list for the upcoming legislative session that includes the Interstate 5 replacement bridge project, infrastructure, public defense, public safety and more. Yet during a meeting Wednesday between the county councilors and local legislators, much of the discussion focused on something not on their list — the need for a third bridge over the Columbia River in Clark County.
The councilors were joined in person and online by Republicans Sen. Lynda Wilson and Rep. Paul Harris from the 17th District, Reps. Stephanie McClintock and Greg Cheney from the 18th District, Sen. John Braun and Rep. Ed Orcutt from the 20th District and Democrats Sen. Annette Cleveland and Reps. Sharon Wylie and Monica Stonier from the 49th District.
“We are so far behind. If we don’t plan on a third corridor, we are never going to be able to afford the rights-of-way necessary,” Councilor Gary Medvigy said.
Medvigy said delays in planning now will only lead to bad decisions being made later.
Wilson said she’s proposed a bill to consider a third bridge the past three years but it has failed to gain any traction. She said local lawmakers support the idea, but it will take broader support from other legislators to move forward.
“You’re exactly right. If we don’t start talking about it now, it’s going to be another 50 years before another bridge is built,” Wilson said.
Orcutt said the need for a third bridge is evident given Clark County’s population growth.
“If you look at Cowlitz County, with a population of about 110,000, we’ve got five bridges across the Cowlitz River with a total of eight lanes in each direction,” Orcutt said.
Meanwhile, only seven lanes total cross the Columbia River in Clark County, which has a population of more than 525,000, he added.
“That should put into perspective of how great the need is for a third crossing,” Orcutt said.
Wylie said Clark County’s legislators understand another bridge is needed, not just wanted. She said Oregon will have a stake in the outcome, and compromises will likely have to be made to get it built.
“All of us want another bridge but we have to get the I-5 Bridge built first,” Harris said.
Harris said he hopes to bring Oregon into discussions about a third bridge as the I-5 Bridge project moves forward.
To watch the full meeting, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qhqp76CzQ1s.