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Our Opinion: Latest plan is a bridge to nowhere

Clark County Commissioner David Madore is the latest person to propose what superficially seems to be a logical solution to traffic congestion beween Portland and Vancouver.

Unfortunately, though, Madore is pushing an idea whose time isn’t likely to come in the foreseeable future. The concept of a third metro-area bridge across the Columbia River has been a pipe dream for years, and has been dismissed many times for some very solid reasons.

Madore has proposed a four-lane bridge that would cost $860 million and cross the river east of Interstate 205’s Glenn Jackson Bridge.

On Tuesday, Clark County commissioners voted 2 to 1 to send the proposal to voters in November.

What this bridge would not do, however, is solve the problems of traffic congestion and seismic instability at the Interstate 5 bridge crossing that has been the topic of study for more than a decade. Nor is there any current plan for how a third bridge could be paid for and approved within the five-year time span that Madore has outlined for his project.

As noted during Monday’s Vancouver City Council meeting, if the project were to proceed, the city’s comprehensive plan would have to be amended to include the bridge intersection at Southeast 192nd Avenue in Vancouver. And that’s not to mention the numerous local, state and federal permits that would have to be obtained. For this and other reasons, Vancouver councilors voted 6-1 against Madore’s proposal.

Madore, who was a staunch critic of the Columbia River Crossing, repeatedly has stated that the people want a third bridge and that’s why he pursued this proposal. According to the East County Bridge Project website, Clark County commissioners voted unanimously to develop a third bridge plan.

“You spoke. We heard. We’re doing what you told us to do.”

Listening to constituents is important, but the end result of that process must be something of actual benefit to the public. The third-bridge proposal won’t do much to ease the commute across the Columbia or speed up the movement of freight. So why spend nearly a billion dollars for marginal benefits?

Madore hasn’t gone through a public process to develop support for his plan, which also has not been presented to the Oregon Department of Transportation. As envisioned, the new bridge would cross the river four miles east of the Glenn Jackson Bridge and intersect with Northeast Airport Way. It eventually might connect with Interstate 84, but that’s not part of the current proposal because it would have required getting federal approval.

If ODOT had been consulted, it could have presented Madore with the various studies it has conducted of other third-bridge plans proposed in the past. None of those options were pursued because rigorous analysis indicated they would do little to relieve traffic congestion on Interstate 5.

Even if Madore could wave a magic bridge wand, get the environmental impact statements approved, gain support from the necessary entities and figure out a way to pay for it, Oregon and Washington still would be left with an Interstate 5 bridge that’s approaching its 100th birthday, that cannot withstand a major earthquake and that still would be congested with traffic.

Oregon and Washington need to find a way to reach common ground on a new bridge across the Columbia.

It’s going to be big.

It’s going to be expensive.

And, like it or not, if the federal government is going to provide significant funding, it will have to include light rail or something

similar.

If Madore wants to make an impact, then he would be wise to rally support for a bridge project that would be grounded in reality and intended to solve real traffic problems between Oregon and Washington.