Letter to support I-5 bridge grant a challenge for county council

A letter in support of a $2.9 billion grant application for the Interstate Bridge Replacement Project proved to be a stumbling block for the Clark County Council.
The letter, which came from the Clark County Transportation Alliance and was sent to County Manager Kathleen Otto by Identity Clark County, will be sent to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg. The Port of Hood River sent a nearly identical letter to Buttigieg in support of the grant application on June 29.
During the council’s Aug. 2 council time meeting, Chair Karen Bowerman said the letter would need to be revised to reflect the needs and desires of Clark County before it could be sent. She said the letter did a good job in some areas, it left out important information.
The letter doesn’t address “reducing congestion on the I-5 bridge, the light rail extension being addressed as something we don’t really want to see. That’s omitted from the letter,” Bowerman said.
She said it also doesn’t address the opposition to tolling many in Clark County, including the council, have already expressed. Resolving issues over the height restrictions was also not discussed, she added.
“Then there’s all the issues we had discussed earlier, which I think is frankly the place to start, on the whole point about having a third corridor tied in,” Bowerman said.
Otto noted the grant, if awarded, would be used to reduce tolls on I-5 once the bridge is built. Otto said if the council decides to send the letter, it has the option of revising it before doing so.
Because the letter is intended as support for a grant application, Councilor Sue Marshall cautioned against including anything that would indicate the council is not supportive of the project.
“I would be cautious about undermining support for grant,” Marshall said. “It’s been a delicate process just to get this point. All of the funding components are, I think, somewhat uncertain and this is a large chunk of the funding.”
Marshall said if the council is not supportive of the grant or the bridge project, that should be communicated in another way.
Councilor Glen Yung agreed with Marshall and said the letter should not be revised.
However, Councilor Gary Medvigy said he also wanted to revise the letter before sending it.
“This letter conflicts with our prior positions. I do not support signing on to this letter,” Medvigy said.
While he wasn’t sure the entire council would reach agreement on what a replacement or revised letter would include, he did support an effort to revise it.
“I would like to put in to the secretary of transportation, ‘Hey, give us funding for planning for a third corridor.’ We need that as much,” Medvigy said.
Councilor Michelle Belkot agreed that revising the letter could undermine support for the grant. Because there are still several unresolved issues, like tolling and light rail, she did not support sending any letter in support of the grant.
After continuing to discuss how to move forward, Marshall and Yung eventually agreed to consider a revised version. Otto said staff would work on the changes and bring the letter back to the council for review on Aug. 9.
— Shari Phiel

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