Mother of all meetings

The Columbian was out in full force Monday morning reporting on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing in Vancouver.

All three meeting mavens were on the scene blogging and tweeting about the event. Political reporter Kathie Durbin will have the full story in Tuesday’s Columbian.

Here’s the blow-by-blow of the meeting in a live blog format:

A congressional committee is in Vancouver today taking testimony on the Columbia River Crossing and other transportation infrastructure projects.

Anti-tolling activists, a new counter-group, and Cascade Bicycle Club are all expected to attend.

The session is scheduled from 9 to 11 a.m., with the first hour devoted to testimony from invited speakers, including Washington Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond and anti-toll crusader David Madore. The second hour will be open to public comment.

The Columbian will post live updates here throughout the hearing.

11:05 a.m.: A couple dozen people are lined up to speak to members of the committee. Some are giving written comments to Herrera Beutler and DeFazio. Others just offered their thanks for holding the hearing in Vancouver.

11 a.m.: The hearing is adjourned.

10:55 a.m.: Chairman Mica ended public comment. Five people had a chance to speak.

He also recognized officials in the audience. They included: Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt, County Commissioners Steve Stuart and Tom Mielke, Ridgefield Mayor Ron Onslow, Washougal Councilman Paul Greenlee, Spokane County Commissioner (and Tom Mielke’s nephew) Todd Mielke and Ralph Munro, former Washington Secretary of State.

10:53 a.m.: County Commissioner Tom Mielke’s number was drawn. Mielke said “I’m not against a new bridge, I’m against the bridge we’re proposing.”

He continued: “I’d like to see a third bridge and a fourth bridge but not one where the corridor is already full.”

10:45 a.m.: Mica is allowing audience members to speak. Each speaker will have 1 to 2 minutes. Herrera Beutler will draw tickets for speakers.

10:35 a.m.: Congressman Bill Shuster, R-PA, said the mayors and local officials talked about the strain of Department of Ecology regulations.

Peter Capell, Clark County Public Works director, said the DOE required the county to mitigate the county’s impact for a project and all potential future impacts once the land is developed. Mitigation costs for that project made up 30 to 40 percent of the total project costs.

10:15 a.m.: Herrera Beutler asked Ennis, director of the Center for Transportation, for suggestions to streamline the process and what could be put on hold or delayed in order to speed up the process.

Ennis suggested using all financial resources possible, public and private, and defining what are natural and unnatural costs in the project.

Ennis also suggested spending time on performance measures. For example, why spend $1.2 billion on light rail, which would only transport 3 to 10 percent of the commuters. Buses or rapid bus transit would be more cost effective, he said.

“You shouldn’t let debate around light rail delay the project,” Ennis said.

10 a.m.: David Madore, owner of U.S. Digital and a vocal opponent of the CRC project, testified. Madore used the CRC as an example.

Mica asked Madore for his suggestions on how to change the process.

“Start with a vote. We cannot vote on this project,” Madore said.

He also suggested including input from “not only decision makers and elected officials who could be influenced by outside money but also … the citizens and business leaders” — a comment that drew groans from the “Build That Bridge” crowd.

9:40 a.m.: Michael Ennis, director of the Center for Transportation, spoke about the Minneapolis Bridge that collapsed Aug. 1, 2007. A 10-lane replacement bridge was built in 437 days.

“If they can build a 10-lane bridge for less than $300 million in 437 days, I don’t know why it takes more than two decades to build the Columbia River bridge,” he said.

9:35 a.m.: Paula Hammond, secretary of Washington Department of Transportation, testified about being more strategic with less money. Federal funds to Washington state have declined by 20 percent.

9:21 a.m.: Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio began his testimony.

DeFazio drew applause from the audience when he mentioned a bridge in France. That bridge, which is larger than the bridge needed to cross the Columbia River, cost $800 million. The proposed Columbia River Crossing is expected to cost more than $3 billion.

9:15 a.m.: Herrera Beutler began her testimony.

“Let me be clear, I believe we need a new bridge that is safe, affordable and meets future capacity needs,” she said. “But I won’t support this bridge at any price. How we fund this bridge will have as significant of an impact as the new bridge itself.”

Herrera Beutler said she’s considering several questions as the project moves forward: What’s the impact of the bridge on local areas like the historic site? What impact will tolls have on Southwest Washington? Is light rail the best form of transportation for this area? And are we building a bridge that meets the maximum transportation needs or a “cosmetic marvel?”

9:10 a.m.: Mica said the public comment period for the hearing will remain open for at least two weeks. Anyone who wishes to submit ideas or recommendations can do so through their local representatives.

9 a.m.: Mica, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, opened the hearing. Members of the audience chuckled as he mentioned Oregon and pronounced it Or-e-gone.

8:45 a.m.: The room is full. More than 100 people are being turned away. Some are filling out comment cards and lingering and the rest are leaving. It’s been a peaceful show of interest.

8:40 a.m.: County Commissioner Steve Stuart and several local mayors met with Herrera Beutler and Mica at 8 a.m. at Herrera Beutler’s local office.

8:35 a.m. The auditorium doors open, but it’s apparent only about half of the people will be able to find seats. The staff of Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, picked the venue in part because of its convenience to the airport. The chairman of today’s hearing, Florida Congressman John L. Mica, has a tight connection to a flight from PDX after the hearing.

The elected officials are standing in line with the public. Mielke, wearing a “no light rail” ribbon pinned to his shirt, is in line with Vancouver City Councilman Larry Smith, who sports a “build that bridge” sticker on his coat. Alan Svehaug, who ran against County Commissioner Steve Stuart in November, and Josephine Wentzel, a vocal opponent to light rail, are both here wearing “No Light Rail” stickers.

Also in the line is Mielke’s nephew, Spokane County Commissioner Todd Mielke, who wants to talk about Highway 395, the north-south freeway envisioned in Spokane since the 1950s.

8:30: Among the signs greeting people as they arrive: “Build That Bridge,” “I-5 is full, we need a third bridge NOW!,”No Loot Rail on our Columbia Crossing,” and “Tolls punish the working.”

People are also wearing stickers on their shirts that read “Build that Bridge” and “Light Rail” with a line through it.

8:15: Already about 150 people are in line to get in the door for the hearing, which should max out the Clark Public Utilities’ auditorium. The first people said they arrived at 7 a.m.

The new pro-bridge group was the most visible, with people at the corner of Mill Plain and Fort Vancouver Way holding “Fund CRC” signs. They also brought an awning and a large urn of coffee, welcome on a cold, dry morning.

The people were set up at the entrance to the parking lot, with activist Debbie Peterson handing fliers to people driving in for the hearing. County Commissioner Tom Mielke rolled down his window and took a flier; the car behind him, driven by CRC project manager Don Wagner, did not.

Also in the crowd: former Congressional candidate David Hedrick.

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