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New bistate thinking on transportation needed
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New bistate thinking on transportation needed

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Editor’s note: Today’s guest editorial originally appeared in The Columbian. Editorial content from other publications and authors is provided to give readers a sampling of regional and national opinion and does not necessarily reflect positions endorsed by the Editorial Board of The Daily News.

When it comes to transportation solutions throughout the metro area, it is understandable if Clark County residents feel a bit helpless.

Whether considering a new Interstate 5 Bridge or additional bridges across the Columbia River or a tolling proposal for interstate freeways in Portland, people on this side of the river are relatively powerless. This is despite the fact that an estimated 70,000 Clark County residents commute to Oregon for work, and thousands more frequent the Portland area for shopping, recreation and entertainment.

In other words, when it comes to transportation, we need them more than they need us, and we often are beholden to the whims of planners on that side of the river while wielding little political power. That is a hard truth, but it is reality.

That reality was brought to mind by a recent story about a proposed ballot measure in Oregon. An initiative to undermine Oregon’s proposal for tolls along I-5 and Interstate 205 through Portland failed to qualify for the November ballot in that state because of a lack of signatures. Washington residents had no say on whether the measure qualified for the ballot, and we would have no vote if it ever does.

That creates frustration, because such tolls — at least toward the northern end of the freeways — would inequitably impact motorists from Washington. A large proportion of bridge crossings — southbound in the morning and northbound in the afternoon — are made by Washington residents heading to or from work. The Columbian has editorially decried the proposal unless the funds are earmarked for freeway projects in areas that would benefit the people who pay for them, and political leaders from Washington also have spoken up in opposition.

The plan is far from finalized. Oregon officials are formulating the specifics, and then they would need approval from the federal government, which controls the interstate freeway system.

But the issue demonstrates Clark County’s lack of power. The same can be said for efforts to replace the Interstate 5 Bridge and the pursuit of additional bridges across the Columbia; we can propose all the bridges we like, but if they aren’t welcome on the Oregon side of the river, they amount to bridges to nowhere.

With two states, two counties, multiple cities, a regional government in Oregon and two transportation departments involved in discussions, progress is difficult. Too many cooks spoil the broth, after all — an apt metaphor for transportation issues in this region.

All of that should lead to new bistate thinking about how to govern. One example is the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Formed in 1921, the Port Authority is an interstate compact authorized by Congress that oversees regional transportation infrastructure — bridges, tunnels, airports and seaports. The agency’s motto — “We Keep the Region Moving” — is positively inspiring when compared with the gridlock that encompasses transportation issues in our region.

A local agency would not be a panacea. There would be concerns about accountability, with voters having little direct control. And there would be questions about the efficacy of adding another layer of bureaucracy. But if organized properly, a port authority could eliminate bureaucracy elsewhere and pursue solutions that right now have ground to a halt. Those solutions could benefit residents on both sides of the river and, therefore, boost the economy of the entire region.

At this point, we are desperate for such solutions, grasping for ideas born out of frustration.

Copyright 2020 Tribune Content Agency.

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