A start to a process with hopes to fix transportation issues in the Portland metropolitan area is up in the Washington state Legislature this year with its sponsor, Rep. Liz Pike, R-Camas, hoping the third time is the charm in doing what the Columbia River Crossing project couldn’t.
Pike introduced HB 1222 last month which sets up a bi-state legislative work group split between Oregon and Washington legislators to come up with transportation solutions over the Columbia River. The bill would create a process where those 16 legislators would sit down “eyeball to eyeball” as Pike phrased itin order to figure out solutions.
Pike said the two chief issues the committee would focus on are improving freight mobility in the region and to ease traffic congestion. The freight mobility portion was key given Washington’s reliance on trade. Pike said Washington was the most trade-dependent state in the U.S., and according to the Washington state Department of Agriculture is the third-largest exporter of food and agriculture products in the nation. According to the latest U.S. Census data exports have been on the rise in the state, making up 5.7 percent of the total U.S. exports in 2015.
“It is hugely important that we have a freight system that can move all those goods and services out of our cities and towns to our ports and get them out of here,” Pike said.
A similar bill to Pike’s, sponsored by Rep. Sharon Wylie D-Vancouver, and secondarily sponsored by Pike, passed unanimously out of the House Transportation Committee in 2016, though it met its demise in the Senate rules committee. Previous to that another attempt was made to get the work group moving.
Two major additions to this bill make it more appealing than previous attempts, Pike said, specifically the addition of regional long-term plans at 10, 25 and 50 year timeframes. Pike said that mandate would give consistency to the plan even with legislative turnover.
“All of us legislators come and go, we have terms. We serve two, three, four terms then we go on to do something else,” Pike said. “You can’t have this changing plan every time there are new regimes that come and go in the Legislature, so we have to come up with a plan that everybody can agree on and then stick to it.”
Pike added that the bill would also have the work group identify potential new corridors outside of I-5 should those be more viable.
Apart from the split between Oregon and Washington legislators, Pike also addressed the need for balance on the panel in the number of Republicans and Democrats was also important so that one party could not “hijack the process” based on party lines.
With the failure of Washington to put up its end of the bargain with the CRC, Pike stressed the need for something that fixed the chief issues with that multi-billion-dollar proposed development.
“I want to defend something that the people want, and if it’s a project that is just the CRC all over again, then I’m out,” Pike said, adding her constituents have repeatedly expressed disapproval of a bridge primarily just for transit.
“Freight doesn’t move on a C-TRAN bus and it doesn’t move on a light rail line,” Pike said. “It moves on the back of a big truck.”
Pike said when bonding and financing costs were added up, the CRC would have been a roughly $5 billion project. The light rail component was about one-third of that amount she said, though it would only benefit about 3 percent of the population.
Overall, Pike stressed the need for something to happen, whether or not it be through HB 1222 or another similar strategy.
“Whatever bill that comes out of that committee that meets the objectives to deal with freight mobility and congestion relief, and that sets up a process to deal with not just the I-5 corridor but the regional needs … any measure that comes out that achieves those objectives I will support 100 percent because doing nothing really isn’t an option,” Pike said.