Officials from North Clark County discuss transportation issues with state commission

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The state-level body that helps steer transportation policy in Washington had a chance to hear directly from local officials last week on issues they face while trying to build and maintain roads in Clark County.

The Washington State Transportation Commission visited Clark County and participated in a two-day meeting hosted at Battle Ground City Hall last week. The chief reason for the visit was to hear about transportation efforts and challenges in the region.

The first day focused on transportation projects undertaken in Clark County, which included any challenges the county, cities and the Cowlitz Indian Tribe have faced while pursuing their work. The difficulty of securing funding at the state level for projects involving the Washington State Department of Transportation is generally the biggest hurdle local governments face.

Battle Ground Mayor Philip Johnson led off the days of meetings with a fitting car analogy to describe transportation work in Washington. Johnson said each municipality is part of a vehicle. While some are greater in size, they are all important to keep the vehicle of the state running, he said. 

He described Battle Ground as one of the smaller parts in the machine and the state government as the mechanics who can supply the needed fix.

“Even though the oil was authorized, the assistance needed to apply it came in drips and drabs,” Johnson said.

He expressed frustration with the speed of the process. 

“We participate in the meetings, we listen to all the presentations and we still don’t get it. Why does everything take so long and cost so much and make such little sense?” Johnson asked.

As an example, he said some email chains on road projects in the state have dozens of participants. Any one person can bring a stop to the process.

“All we as citizens want is a system that functions like it should — smoothly, efficiently and relatively easy,” Johnson said.

Clark County’s transportation issues are largely fueled by the area’s growth. The county’s population has grown 160% between 1980 and 2020, said Matt Ransom, the executive director of the Southwest Washington Regional Transportation Council.

Twenty years ago, conversations in the county focused on maintaining rural character and the small-town feel, “which are certainly aspirations that we want to hold on to,” but even North Clark County communities are confronting urban dynamics, Ransom said.



Ridgefield is emblematic of that rapid growth. City Manager Steve Stuart said the city’s population grew by a third during the COVID-19 pandemic alone. With that “explosive” growth, Ridgefield isn’t able to rely on time-intensive funding mechanisms for its projects, which are only increasing.

“When increased regulatory pressure and timelines push these projects, not only do our residents suffer by not having the infrastructure in place, but also from the costs that we all bear,” Stuart said.

He gave the example of a widening project on Pioneer Street, which is part of state Route 501, west of the Interstate 5 junction. Initially projected to be $14 million, the project is now closer to $34 million for a variety of reasons including stormwater infrastructure, severe supply chain cost adjustments and new regulatory requirements.

“These are just a few things that we are facing on a single project that you will find throughout the state, but are taking a project that is desperately needed … from affordable to relatively unachievable,” Stuart said.

In North Clark County’s biggest city and the host of the meeting, a seven-phase project to reduce congestion at the intersection of state Route 502 and state Route 503 is the paramount road improvement Battle Ground wants to complete.

Battle Ground Public Works Director Mark Herceg said the congestion project is currently in the fourth and largest phase which has been bid and contracted, with two subsequent phases to be bid by the end of the year. That project has also suffered from inflationary costs. The cost was estimated to be $12.2 million in 2020, but the number is likely significantly higher now.

“The seven phases were scheduled out over many years and so it was difficult to keep up with the cost increase,” Herceg said. 

The city’s “wish list” for the transportation council includes more support from the state Transportation Improvement Board, more legislative funding options, an additional employee for WSDOT’s Highway and Local Programs and more collaboration between the department and cities with state highways in their jurisdiction.

Battle Ground City Manager Erin Erdman noted that while the city has a population of about 23,000, it serves a greater trade area of roughly 85,000 people with commuter traffic to and from Portland and is bisected by two state routes, making it a transportation hub in the region.

The transportation council also heard from officials from Clark County, La Center, Woodland and the Cowlitz Indian Tribe regarding their own transportation efforts. Among the larger projects is work on 179th Street in central Clark County and Woodland’s interchange with Interstate 5 at Exit 21.

The first meeting of the week lasted four hours. The transportation committee then returned the next day to discuss economic development, transit, the Interstate 5 bridge over the Columbia River and an overview of WSDOT projects in the region.

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  • JohnLey

    The article fails to mention citizen input to the Washington State Transportation Commission. That is the missing link in so many of their decisions and discussions.

    My remarks, limited to just 3 minutes by the WSTC Board.

    "The single biggest transportation project in the history of the Portland metro area is the proposed $5 billion Interstate Bridge Replacement. They want to replace the current 3-lane bridge with another 3-lane bridge that is supposed to last for at least 100 years.

    If built, the bridge would open in 2032. Yet in 2030, traffic projections indicate we will need 5 lanes in each direction, and by 2070, the I-5 corridor would need 9 lanes in each direction.

    The IBR is already promising that AFTER spending $5 billion on the bridge, plus Oregon spending another $1.4 billion on I-5 at the Rose Quarter, travel times will DOUBLE. Today it takes 29 minutes to travel from the I-5/I-205 interchange in Salmon Creek to Portland’s Fremont Bridge. It will take 60 minutes in 2045.

    They further project that HALF of rush hour traffic will be stuck traveling zero to 20 mph by 2045, double the current numbers. What a huge waste of transportation dollars.

    The IBR demands TOLLING, which Clark County voters reject. Clackamas and Washington County Commissioners are also speaking out against tolling.

    You know that TOLLING is hugely inefficient. On Seattle’s I-405, fully 43 percent of tolling dollars go to the cost of collection. Furthermore, we are now in the 3rd year of the entire Washington tolling system needing to be bailed out with other taxpayer dollars. The Seattle SR-99 tunnel TOLLING will be underwater and in the RED for the next 30 years. We don’t need tolling to pay for this bridge!

    They are demanding extending Portland’s MAX light rail for $1.3 billion. Yet the MAX Yellow line can only carry 1,000 people an hour, while it travels just 14 mph. Nobody wants to travel that slow! Less than 1,000 people a day use transit to cross the river. Clark County residents have rejected light rail multiple times at the ballot box.

    Portland has a dozen bridges across the Willamette River. We need more than 2 bridges across the Columbia River. In the failed CRC effort, the bridge component was just $792 million. We could build a new bridge for under $1 billion. You did that 15 years ago, with the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. For just $786 million, the 5,400 foot long bridge provides over 500 feet of clearance for marine traffic. The IBR is proposing only 116 feet of clearance for river traffic, 60 feet lower than the current structure.

    On behalf of the roughly 75,000 Clark County residents who work in Oregon, stop this waste of taxpayer money. Let’s build a reasonably priced bridge that adds vehicle capacity for our freight haulers and commuters.

    The 2 biggest transportation bottlenecks in the region are the 2-lane Rose Quarter and the 3-lane Vista Ridge Tunnel to Washington County. Neither are being fixed.

    We need a 3rd bridge now and new transportation corridors!"

    5 days ago Report this