Third Clark County bridge plan over Columbia River revealed

VANCOUVER, Wash. — A concept for a proposed third bridge over the Columbia River in Clark County has been revealed, adding another element to a protracted debate on how to ease congestion between these parts of Washington and Oregon.

Championed by Clark County Commissioner David Madore, the proposed east county bridge would cross the Columbia River at Southeast 192nd Avenue and Highway 14 in Vancouver, jog to the west slightly, cross Government Island and connect to Northeast Airport Way in Oregon. The bridge would feature four lanes for motor vehicles and two covered lanes for bike and foot traffic. The bridge would be a segmental concrete span held aloft by slender columns.

The project would cost no more than $860 million and could be completed in five years. That timeline takes into account permitting and the design-build phase, said Linda Figg of Florida-based FIGG Engineering Group.

A third bridge has long been considered as an option to relieve congestion between the two states.

Madore has also been an opponent of revamping the I-5 river crossing, a two-state plan that is moribund after Washington lawmakers balked at authorizing money. That bridge plan includes light rail and cost an estimated $2.9 billion, but it would come with federal money.

At an estimated $860 million, Madore says a third bridge is a common-sense approach to relieving traffic congestion.

But the timeline, and dollar amount, raised eyebrows among those in attendance at Friday’s meeting.

“How exactly are we going to pay for it?” asked state Rep. Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver.

Madore said there were funding options available, but it would take a partnership between Oregon and Washington to unlock them. He has vowed that the bridge will be toll free.

“We have to look to our state Legislatures to be good stewards of our funds,” he said.

A 2008 study found that an east-county river crossing would provide congestion relief on the I-205 corridor, possibly resulting in 15 to 20 percent fewer trips on that freeway. The same year, the Southwest Washington Regional Transportation Council included eastside crossings in a Transportation Corridor Visioning Study. An east county bridge isn’t currently in any regional long-range plans or maps in either state.

The project would require significant buy-in from multiple agencies in both states. So far, discussions among those agencies have not taken place.

Representatives from state agencies were absent from Friday’s meeting. Don Wagner, regional administrator for the Washington Department of Transportation, said his office had received an invitation, but he chose not to attend.

Wagner called the process a “departure” from the department’s model for public input and the timing of Friday’s meeting “terrible.” It’s too early for state agencies to get involved, he said.

“Specifically, we have not been contacted with any details whatsoever about this project,” Wagner said. “If this is a county bridge they are going to build with county funds, I don’t see why I would have to be at the meeting.”

Dave Thompson, a spokesman for the Oregon Department of Transportation, said he had heard nothing official about the project and could not comment on it.

Madore has said the county will enter into more in-depth conversations with state agencies, both in Washington and Oregon, if there’s citizen support to move the project forward.

County commissioners are scheduled to meet again Tuesday to discuss the east county proposal and whether to pursue placing an advisory vote on November’s general-election ballot. The vote would be used to gauge the public’s desire in investigating the proposal further.

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