Congestion dominates transportation discussion
Many politicians shy away from controversy. Not Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle. Speaking to the Portland Business Alliance on Wednesday, she embraced two of the most polarizing ideas in the region — replacing the I-5 bridge and tolling I-5 and I-205.
In fact, McEnerny-Ogle went further than the Oregon Transportation Commission, which has proposed tolling a portion of I-5 in Portland and I-205 in Oregon City. She also wants to toll both freeways in Washington, starting at the Clark County Fairgrounds, to help pay for the replacement I-5 bridge.
"Tolling will be part of the discussion to replace the I-5 bridge. There's not a major transportation plan under construction or being planned in the country right now that doesn't include tolls," said McEnerny-Ogle.
Since being elected Vancouver mayor in November 2017, McEnerny-Ogle has become the most vocal proponent of replacing the aging bridge between the two states. The last effort, the bi-state Columbia River Crossing project, collapsed in 2014 when Republicans in the Washington Senate refused to fund the project, which had already been approved by the Oregon Legislature.
Since taking office in January, McEnerny-Ogle has repeated apologized for what happened and worked to relaunch the project. She has lobbied other governments in Southwest Washington to ask Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and the Washington State Legislature to provide funds to the Washington State Department of Transportation to open a project office and begin new discussions about it with the Oregon Department of Transportation. Supporting resolutions have since been passed by the Vancouver City Council, the Clark County Council, and the ports of Vancouver, Camas-Washougal and Richfield.
So far, no Oregon elected officials have endorsed the effort, although state Sen. President Peter Courtney has said discussions should take place. And so did Metro President-elect Lynn Peterson, who attended the Sept. 19 PBA forum breakfast at the downtown Sentinel Hotel.
"I'm willing to talk about it. There needs to be local discussions," said Peterson, who will take office in January. Peterson's willingness is significant because Metro is in charge of regional transportation planning.
"I understand why elected officials are reluctant to talk about controversial issues, especially be an election," said McEnerny-Ogle, who has had private discussions about the project with Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek and three Metro councilors.
Mayor Wheeler and Mayor McEnerny-Ogle: It's on
McEnerny-Ogle also has a meeting scheduled with Mayor Ted Wheeler next week. Asked about Wheeler's thoughts on replacing the bridge, his press coordinator, Sophia June, would only say, "The Mayor is looking forward to meeting with Mayor McEnerny-Ogle next week."
The forum was titled "The Future of Portland Mobility." McEnerny-Ogle appeared on a panel that included TriMet General Manager Doug Kelsey and Alando Simpson, the vice president of City of Roses Disposal & Recycling. Simpson also serves on the OTC, which will soon be asking the Federal Highway Administration for permission to toll parts of I-5 and I-205, as directed by the 2017 Oregon Legislature.
All three panelists said traffic congestion is a serious and growing problem in the Portland region that is hurting the economy and frustrating travelers. Simpson said he supports tolling the freeways to discourage unnecessary driving during rush hours and to raise revenue for transportation construction and maintenance projects.
"I don't care whether you call them tolls, congestion pricing or decongestion pricing, but we need new revenue to invest in our tranbsportation system," Simpson.
Kelsey and the others said all transportation options must be enhanced and explored to improve livability, including water taxis on the Willamette River.
"We have a small 'c' crisis now, congestion. Let's not let it become a big one," said Kelsey.