Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Mielke attacks bridge project

The rancid right in Clark County continues to work itself into a lather about a new I-5 bridge. This time it's former state representative and failed county commission candidate Tom Mielke teeing off in a letter to the editor.
As a former state representative, I won't sit quietly by and let the Columbia River Crossing cook the numbers with obviously misleading facts concerning an alleged 68 percent of Clark County supporting light rail.

The $50 million wasted by the CRC to convince us that light rail is "needed," could almost pay for two new freeway interchanges.

Now, with their preordained outcome achieved, we're left with tearing down a perfectly good I-5 bridge, replacing it with a $2 billion bridge with the same number of general-purpose through lanes, excepting that it will accommodate "light rail," be "more pedestrian friendly," have "bike lanes" and again have an "HOV lane."

Oh yes, I've heard they will be tolling both the I-5 and I-205 bridges to pay for the "light rail" bridge. Do you see what's happening yet? There are several toll-free options that were ignored to achieve CRC's goal.

We should stop wasting time and address the whole north/south corridor congestion problem. We need congestion relief, and that could be achieved by building a new corridor and an additional bridge over the Columbia.

Please don't give us seven possible years of construction on top of the I-5 congestion that we already have!

Tom Mielke
Battle Ground
Mielke should know darn well how these kinds of projects are funded, and just because he and the rest of the wingnuts in Clark County hate light rail doesn't mean they should be allowed to sabotage the project. A poll like CRC commissioned used to cost around $15,000 some years ago. So even if it cost them twice that today it isn't any substantial portion of the CRC budget.

Staff have to be paid and analysis takes money. If Mielke doesn't like the poll results, that's just too bad. He can go do his own poll and pay for it himself.

You can always find flaws in polls, and while the CRC poll had a major drawback by not asking people how to pay for things, it's just one poll. The only valid criticism of CRC is that they didn't properly anticipate the very predictable way conservatives in Clark County would go on the attack.

Mielke may think the Interstate Bridge is fine, but it has substantial shortcomings. The pilings are not set in bedrock, which raises safety concerns during an earthquake. It's a draw bridge ("lift span" in engineering lingo.)

It has no breakdown lanes, and there are sub-standard interchanges and curves very close to it. So Mielke is either ignorant or is being very disingenuous in his characterization of the existing spans.

No matter how many times it gets explained to them, some people in Clark County just won't understand that there will not be a new corridor nor will there be a third bridge, at least in our lifetimes. Bridges need to go somewhere, and Portland isn't going to bulldoze a bunch of neighborhoods so that Tom Mielke can get to Beaverton faster. They just aren't.

Maybe the Republicans in Clark County will get real and decide to be part of solutions rather than bitter, dead-ender obstructionists, but so far there is little evidence of that. That being said, the CRC process does deserve scrutiny.

The staff of CRC should not be the only driving force, but from what I can tell by following the process in the news, on-line and on CVTV, they seem pretty darn willing to answer anyone's questions. There are 39 people on the task force who will have to vote on the bridge options, and it's unlikely that progressives will like every decision either. But instead of making false claims, we intend to make whatever suggestions we think are warranted and go from there.

Frankly, light rail might not even be the right thing to do. There are arguments in favor of it that make sense, like the fact that Portland has already built so much of it. There are sensible arguments against it, like the cost and the relative lack of density in Clark County. But it makes sense to include light rail in the draft environmental impact study.

Mielke and those who share his view have made a very troubling assumption, namely that everything will always be as it is today. It was only about six months ago that gasoline prices were above $3 per gallon.

Are our attention spans really that short? Do transit opponents ever stop to ponder that rail systems take generations to build, and that perhaps our children and grandchildren might find themselves very much in need of one? It's a responsible and practical thing to at least consider a short light rail line to downtown Vancouver.

And Mielke is just being ridiculous by objecting to pedestrian and bike lanes. Earth to Tom: this is the Pacific Northwest.

People love stuff like that and will use it when it's done well. While it's true that the HOV lanes in Clark County didn't quite work, they may be an option in the future. They're an essential part of transportation infrastructure in big cities nowadays, which is what we are now.

Congestion is one of the prices we all pay for growth. Fifteen years ago voices who warned of the eventual costs of rapid growth were generally dismissed.

The sanctity of the free market demanded that growth be allowed to occur at high volumes, or so went the argument. Now congestion is threatening to cause a continuing drag on the region's economy as freight mobility degrades and businesses start looking to locate elsewhere.

Just as at the national level, hard-right Republicans have managed to con a certain number of people with their simplistic accusations and pie-in-the-sky ideas. To demand a third freeway and bridge makes about as much sense as demanding that magic ponies carry us across the river. Even so, county commissioners have tried to appease folks like Mielke with a separate study about a third bridge, to no effect. Mielke decided to just bring out the blunderbuss.

Reasonable people can debate these things in a reasonable fashion. Mielke has chosen to poison the water, which is sad. This wasn't going to be an easy process to begin with. We're fortunate that Steve Stuart is county commissioner and not Mielke, and we can hope Mielke was only speaking for himself and not one of the other two commissioners.

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