Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Reporter's Notebook

John McDonagh can be reached at

We need a bridge

For the first time in what seems like an eternity, local government representatives all seem to be in sync regarding what it’s actually going to take to move forward with the construction of a new I-5 crossing over the Columbia River.

What’s interesting about this new unity of purpose among local leaders is that it simply came down to communication – an exchange of candid, direct and somewhat casual dialogue that allowed the project to regain the support of four key CRC board members and to stay on track to begin construction in 2012.

To be sure, a host of political land mines still stand in the way between our region and a new bridge.

But even with all of the impact statements, the press conferences, the endless meetings, we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that a bridge is sometimes just that – a bridge.

As in the private sector, when we first dream about a new building or expansion project, inevitably that vision gets tempered by the reality of what is possible given the constraint of space, time and cost. Applying that same logic to the CRC project, most parties are on record as saying we can’t afford everything that the stakeholders say they want in the project.

Given that reality, let’s get back to the CRC’s core mission – namely, building a new bridge.

Mayor Tim Leavitt has certainly articulated the case for not laying a disproportionate amount of the financing burden on the backs of Vancouver and Clark County residents, many of whom commute to work in Oregon. Though not as loudly articulated by Leavitt or others, neither should the burden be diverted to freight-haulers or other businesses in Southwest Washington that maintain a good share of their business in Oregon and elsewhere on the West Coast.

But let’s be clear: how we generate the local share of funding for the project will be a moot point unless there is a new bridge to fund.

Businesses operating in tough economic times have always scaled back on the scope of projects to reflect existing market conditions.

Now it’s the CRC board’s time to follow their lead – especially given the size and importance of this $4.2 billion project to our region.

The Columbia River Crossing Coalition and its 375 member businesses need to encourage – loud enough for the entire metro area to hear – the Project Sponsors to not only continue their joint efforts but to do so in a business-like manner.

As for the Project Sponsors, they need to scale the project to what we can afford and to consider the alternatives without giving up function and without spending money that none of us have.

The region needs a new bridge, one built of steel and concrete – not the mere idea, or proposed version of one.

We need a bridge.


Jake Engle said...

Question for the reader: Are you reading this on a 92 year old computer screen?

Or even a 92 month (8 years) old one?
Cause the bridge is 92 years young.

We in Clark County need to be positive, innovative and open to compromising. There are dozens of ways to make this project work for everyone. I applaud the staff of the VBJ for being realistic. And I appreciate their remarks, and I'll have more questions to ask. This project is vital.