First, let’s get something out of the way: The Columbia River Crossing is still dead.
Yet the ghost of the proposed Interstate 5 Bridge replacement continues to haunt government meetings in Clark County. Politicians and citizens still routinely evoke the CRC and light rail as if it were starting construction next week. (Remember the rumors that resulted from utility work in downtown Vancouver in 2011?)
The latest example occurred during this week’s Southwest Washington Regional Transportation Council meeting. As the group discussed a list of four highway projects it hopes will be included in a statewide transportation funding package this year, Clark County Councilor David Madore zeroed in on one item in particular — $86 million in upgrades around the I-5/Mill Plain Boulevard interchange. That interchange, of course, would have been rebuilt as part of the $3 billion CRC.
“I have the gift of suspicion here. Is this a light rail component going on here in disguise?” Madore said. “I want to know. What is this thing?”
He added: “It might not be. I just want to make sure.”
Don Wagner, regional administrator for the Washington State Department of Transportation, had just explained that the project would primarily address the problem of large loads not being able to easily navigate the area on their way to the Port of Vancouver. The existing interchange has “substantial issues,” Wagner said.
The Mill Plain interchange was also included in a longer list of priority projects that the RTC board discussed and approved in January. Madore said he’d like to see “the basics” of the project, and have more details made available to board members and the public.
For the record, the light rail extension envisioned as part of the CRC wouldn’t have gone anywhere near the Mill Plain interchange. Plans had the light rail route traveling up and down Washington and Broadway streets downtown, then passing under I-5 at McLoughlin Boulevard — well north of Mill Plain. The light rail line would have ended at Clark College.
And again, the CRC isn’t coming back from the grave any time soon. The Federal Transit Administration offered further proof of this recently by removing the CRC from its “current projects” list. That means the CRC would have to reapply for federal funds — essentially start over — if it ever reared its head again.