This decision point has not come without significant study, process and public input....all mandated by the federal National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
While discussions and studies of improving the I-5 corridor have been occurring for decades, the recent Columbia River Crossing (CRC) effort has been ongoing for some three years now. The CRC Task Force (comprised of 39 members; a comprehensive representation of stakeholders throughout the study area), has been meeting for some three years now. To comply with the NEPA process and perform exhaustive analysis of improvement alternatives that meet the Need and Purpose Statement of the project, some $70 million has been spent. The results of this ongoing study have been the topic of discussion for the CRC Task Force, as well as primary points of discussion for the C-TRAN Board of Directors and Vancouver City Council (and other agencies).
The CRC Task Force members are to be commended for their dedication to staying with the process. Many of the members are volunteering their time; many of the members are paid agency representatives who had to squeeze this responsibility in with everything else. At every task force meeting (I'm pretty sure), public testimony was taken. The suggestion by some opponents to the project that there has been little or no public involvement or dissemination of information is ludicrous. There have been many, many public meetings, workshops, open houses, individual and neighborhood meetings; I wouldn't even hazard to guess at how many public meetings and hours I've personally invested over the past three years...and that is only as a councilmember and C-TRAN Board Member.
However, the CRC process is far from over. There are more discussions, negotiations, oversight and decisions to be made before one shovel of dirt is turned over. I look forward to more diligence from the CRC to resolve outstanding issues....and I believe there are a number of outstanding issues that must be resolved. I am supportive of the CRC project Purpose and Need. I am supportive of freeway corridor improvements, including an improved crossing and interchanges. I am supportive of the inclusion of high capacity transit, with a connection to the light rail system in Portland.
The shortcomings I see are as follows:
I expressed reservations about tolling as early as Summer of 2007. That sentiment has not changed.
See...the context has been set that tolls are necessary for a project to be completed. I don't accept this premise. Tolling has been a topic of discussion by some local officials for several years now, hoping to create a sense of inevitability. Consequently, the CRC design consultants have done a wonderful job in proposing a bridge and associated improvements assuming tolling is a funding source for the project.
Tolling should NOT be an accepted condition of the project. The project should be FIRST considered and designed without placement of a toll on the bridge. The project should be designed within the funding provided by the Federal Government, and to a lesser extent, funding from the States of WA, OR and CA.
The Interstate 5 is a federal asset, and a vital international trade corridor for the west coast. Remember, the primary purpose of the project is to improve freight mobility throughout and into/out of the bridge influence area! Why should the citizens of Clark County be disproportionately burdened with tolling, when the feds, the states and the CRC know full well that some 60,000+ residents of Clark County cross the bridge at least twice a day. Don't forget those who have to come back over to Clark County in the middle of the day to pickup kids, get to the doctor, or simply want to have lunch at home with their significant other. At a toll of $2.50/crossing (as has been bounced around), that person will pay to the bridge $10 for the day!
We are losing in a game of 'chicken' with State and Federal agency representatives. Insinuations and comments suggesting that there is less money than expected to come to this project is further stage setting for local share...such as tolls. Nonsense! It's time for our state, and particularly our federal representatives (WA, OR and CA) and businesses up-and-down the west coast, as well as the governments and businesses of Canada and Mexico that rely on the I-5 corridor for trade and freight movement, to make the necessary push in Washington DC to get this darned project funded in full!
Improvements to the bridge influence area must be prioritized. Some of the 'wish list' improvements may need to be dropped from further consideration, in order to eliminate tolls as a funding option. Some of the interchange improvements desired may need to be eliminated. I suppose the Feds will at some point need to determine what is appropriate for their funding and what is 'desirable' from the States and locals.
#2) Political and Practical Reality
The wrangling and negotiating positions from some of the sponsoring agencies have become more clear in recent weeks. Elected officials and agency directors in WA must stand strong in defining our negotiating positions also.
I understand there is a sentiment expressed by some that if there is no light rail included in the project, then there is no project. Irresponsible to say...particularly prior to release of the DEIS study. Now, the data shows that indeed light rail would result in better ridership numbers, less impact to downtown Vancouver and less in ongoing operating and maintenance costs.
However, there is also a sentiment expressed that Clark County should feel privileged to be connecting to the light rail investment of Portland. Thus, the Tri-Met position is that Clark County is to bear the costs for any capital costs (beyond what the Feds will pay) and all operation & maintenance costs for the entire extension of LRT from the present terminus at the Expo Center (Delta Park) into Vancouver.
Really?!? Such sentiment is clearly an ideal position, because it demonstrates a lack of sensitivity both politically and pragmatically. I believe it's accurate to assert that many former residents of Portland who have moved to Clark County have done so because they (among other dislikes of 'liberal' politics) don't believe that paying for light rail transit is a privilege.
Now, please let me be clear. I'm not bashing Portland. I'm not bashing liberal politics. I am saying that the demographics of Clark County appear to be gaining in conservative leanings, and from anecdotal evidence, the folks I've talked to in Clark County that came from Portland have expressed displeasure with the liberal politics. Again, I am supportive of extending LRT into Clark County, with conditions.
The position that the C-TRAN Board of Directors has taken is that the costs of any extension of high capacity transit be split at the dividing line between Oregon and Washington. Let's not forget, however, that every citizen of Clark County that works in Portland already contributes to Tri-Met via a payroll tax deduction. Let's not forget that the extension of LRT into Clark County provides significant advantage to Tri-Met via increased ridership, allowing for a more 'rosey' picture when pursuing federal monies for more LRT investment.
My position will remain steadfast that the cost-sharing for operations & maintenance will be split equitably between the two transit agencies...and in the least will be split at the state line. The issue of capital cost sharing is moot for me, since I continue to support an LRT project that will cost no more than the Feds are willing to pay.
More to come...