In December 2001, Rosemere residents on ‘K’ street learned that they could have lost their homes to make way for a potential I-5 widening project. The RNA received many phone calls from worried neighbors when this issue first arose in a Columbian article entitled “In the Way on ‘K’,” and RNA members became very active in public meetings with the Bi-State Transportation Commission that was established to help find solutions to traffic problems relative to the I-5 bridge crossing. The RNA canvassed the neighborhood and rallied residents to attend Commission meetings and provide written and verbal testimony in order stop unnecessary demolition of homes that abut I-5. The message was loud and clear, and Commission members acknowledged that design plans should be changed to ensure that homes were not lost in Rosemere and other neighborhoods. One home on ‘K’ street still proudly displays a large sign that is visible to I-5 traffic: “WADOT, YOU’RE NOT DESTROYING OUR HOMES!” This sign has stood in place for five years as a testament to the opposition of plans that would require the removal of homes in the I-5 Bridge influence area.
On June 21, 2006, three staff members of the Columbia River Crossing project were featured speakers (for the second time) at the monthly RNA general meeting. Flipcharts and maps were used to display the project impact area, and the staffers took down notes from RNA attendees that will be included as public comment in the administrative record of the project.
RNA previously attended Bi-State Transportation Commission meetings and participated in design symposiums for about two years and helped devise designs that would not cause the removal of homes. But five years later, plans to improve I-5 may again call for the taking of property under the cause of eminent domain. RNA attendees who live near the 39th street interchange explained that transportation workers were on their property recently taking measurements, and the homeowners were worried about the possibility of losing their home or part of their property to road improvements. When Doug Ficco, Director of the Columbia River Crossing explained that it was “likely” that property would be taken during this project, RNA requested that the Crossing project make contact with all homeowners that abut the I-5 project impact area, either door-to-door or by direct mailing in order to achieve a fair public process. The findings of the Bi-State Transportation Commission promised a 1% community enhancement fund as part of the Crossing project. RNA requested an update on this action item and asked for information on how community organizations can make use of these funds, and we are still waiting for an answer to this question.
Ficco said that he began to seek answers to traffic congestion on the I-5 bridge more than 10 years ago, and he said the Columbia River Crossing is taking over where the Bi-State Transportation Commission left off. The Columbia River Crossing Task Force currently recommends four crossing ideas and five public transit ideas for additional evaluation. These recommendations followed a “sifting” process of various ideas offered by a public comment process. The current recommendations include the building of a replacement bridge either up or downstream from the current bridge, construction of a supplemental bridge, and the construction of an Arterial Crossing with improvements to the I-5 bridge. The current I-5 bridge does not meet current highway standards, which leads to traffic congestion and accidents. Public transit recommendations currently include the use of General Express Bus service, special lanes for Express Bus service, Bus Rapid Transit, and Light Rail Service to help reduce congestion.
Ficco described the project impact area as having a vast history of bad traffic accidents due to poor design of various roads and interchanges that feed into the I-5 bridge, as well as a bridge that is not adequate to support the traffic flow. The current system does not have shoulder lanes on the bridge. Ficco explained that braided on-ramps need to be devised to reduce the weaving effect of traffic with access points that are too close together. There is a possibility that the ramps at Fourth Plain Blvd and/or 39th Street may be closed to I-5 access. The main state roadways of SR 14, SR 500, and Mill Plain Blvd. must all remain as access points to I-5. The I-5 and SR-500 interchange is expected to undergo substantial change. A design goal of the Crossing project is to remove the need for bridge lifts. Construction is also expected to allow for 3 lanes of traffic to remain in operation in each direction with lane closures occurring only in off hours at night. RNA commented that increased noise barriers must be included in residential areas.
The Crossing project has formed and environmental justice team to help involve minority and low income communities in the public process. Translated information is available on the Crossing project website in Russian, Spanish and Vietnamese, and foreign language interpreters are available at public meetings. Rosemere is among 17 west Vancouver neighborhoods that qualify as environmental justice neighborhoods, as established by RNA’s demographic research in 2003.
RNA asked specifically about the toll-bridge issue, and Mr. Ficco explained how toll machines now use cameras and computers to read special passes on each vehicle, and drivers would be automatically billed for each trip across the bridge while using pre-paid toll passes. RNA wondered if toll machines would cause huge traffic jams in the bridge impact area, and thus adversely effect the livability of adjacent neighborhoods from airborne pollutants and noise. The consensus among attendees was that tolling the bridge was not a good idea, and that the state governments should be responsible for creating a savings plan to help pay for the Crossing project. Ficco explained that the recent gas tax only generates about $6-8 billion over several years. The Alaskan Way Viaduct project in Seattle will cost about $3 billion, and the remaining funds are not enough to satisfy the state’s transportation needs. Ficco also said that the Crossing project will apply for federal funds, but is too early in the process to determine how much federal money will cover the cost of the project. Federal approval and funding is being sought for 2008, and construction could begin as early as 2009 (depending on funding). An Environmental Impact Statement will be required for the Crossing project, and RNA formally requested to be a party of record and to receive copies of the draft statement during the public comment period.
Peter Ovington, Columbia River Crossing Communication and Public Outreach Consultant, said that comments and questions during the RNA meeting were the best received by the team thus far. Mr. Ficco said that his staff would continue to meet with RNA as often as needed.
Columbia River Crossing Task Force monthly meetings are open to the public, and alternate between Washington (held at WSDOT) and Oregon (held at Oregon Association of Minority Entrepreneurs at 4134 N. Vancouver Ave. (at Skidmore Street), Portland). Meeting Agendas and public feedback forms are available on-line at www.ColumbiaRiverCrossing.org, or you may call 1-866-396-2726 for additional information.