Battle Ground council endorsement of transportation plan raises I-5 tolling concerns


The Battle Ground City Council has put its support behind an annual transportation policy plan, though not without discussion on light rail and the tolling included in the Interstate 5 bridge replacement.

During its Nov. 7 meeting, the council voted 5-2 to endorse the Clark County Transportation Alliance’s 2023 policy statement. The statement lists priorities and specific projects across Clark County, with a top priority of “addressing deficiencies in the I-5 bridge and influence area, including replacing its outdated, chronically congested and accident-prone spans.”

The transportation alliance includes local governments, ports and school districts, as well as business and trade organizations, that for more than 20 years has developed annual statements on transportation priorities in the county.

This year’s plan identifies 15 projects that have been vetted but require funding, seven of which are located in North Clark County, according to the policy statement. For Battle Ground, those projects include improvements of Eaton Boulevard from Southwest 20th Avenue to state Route 503, which is estimated to cost $3.3 million, and a $350,000 downtown revitalization and circulation study.

Mayor Philip Johnson noted the alliance lobbied on behalf of the county and its constituent partners to the Washington State Legislature.

“These people are the folks who go up to Olympia and stand up for the county,” Johnson said.  

The top priority of replacing the I-5 bridge over the Columbia River caused the most consternation and resulted in “no” votes from two councilors.

“I like the entire thing except action one,” which was the support of timely I-5 bridge replacement, Councilor Shauna Walters said.

Walters found that support as presented in the policy statement as “problematic” since it wasn’t specific on points about light rail and tolling. Those two aspects have been points of contention both in the current I-5 bridge replacement and in the failed Columbia River Crossing project from a decade ago.

“I know that we need a new bridge, I just don’t know about signing on to something that could come around and bite us again,” Walters said.

She mentioned voters in the past have rejected measures in support of light rail. 

Most recently in 2013, voters supported an advisory vote when the county commissioners at that time opposed any light rail project in Clark County unless a majority of county voters approved it.

“I would hate to have my name on something going against what the voters have asked for,” Walters said.

Walters also referenced a resolution approved by the Clark County Council the prior week, which opposed tolling in the greater I-5 and Interstate 205 corridors. The resolution acknowledges project-specific tolling for bridge replacement may be necessary, but those tolls should sunset when the project is complete.

Councilor Tricia Davis, who also voted against the endorsement, said the bridge replacement endorsement was “a red flag” for her. The lack of a specific bridge design gave her pause.

“This is just very vague, and I am uncomfortable putting our name on something that we don’t really know what we’re putting our name on,” Davis said

Councilor Adrian Cortes said the city has been supportive of past alliance policy statements throughout the decades they have been made.

“This is not the first one that has the bridge (replacement) on there,” Cortes said.

He said the statement wasn’t an explicit endorsement on specific aspects of the bridge design. He added places with more at stake such as the city of Vancouver have shown strong support of the project development.

“The city of Vancouver has been supportive of a lot of our big projects,” Cortes said. 

In some cases, Vancouver has lobbied on the city’s behalf.

Councilor Troy McCoy argued against the opposition over “vague” items in the statement.

“Every project is vague. There’s no details on any project on here. The bridge is no different,” McCoy said.

He said the position of the bridge replacement as a top priority is recognition the project involves a traffic bottleneck on the largest transportation artery on the West Coast.

“I think if we’re going to pretend that we have some voice in stopping light rail or stopping replacement, we’re making false promises to the public,” McCoy said.

Rejecting the policy statement is ineffective “theater,” McCoy said. A more effective measure would be to address the Washington State Transportation Commission, which visited Battle Ground in September. 

Councilors did voice broad support for the project list. Although not all of the projects benefit the city directly, the regional improvements have positive effects on Battle Ground, Deputy Mayor Cherish DesRochers said.

“Whenever I see improvements for state Route 500 or things like that, I am supportive, because I’ve got to drive to work and I like to go places, and I don’t want to have to deal with terrible traffic,” DesRochers said.