Notes from outside the House T&I ‘listening session’ in Vancouver

The view of today’s hearing for many.
(Photo: Patrick Croasdaile)

At the House of Representatives’ Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure listening session held this morning in Vancouver, WA, many would-be participants never got the chance to be heard.

I happened to arrive at the committee meeting 35 minutes early, yet was eight people shy from getting in. By my estimation, only a third of those who showed up for the event actually made it into the Clark Public Utilities Community Room. Seeking a way around the barriers to entrance was met with a remarkably hostile response from Clark Public Utilities staff.

“This is nuts, they’re going to have to accommodate us somehow. Why would they hold this in such a small room?”
— Bob Mattila

Hoping to gain admittance, Bob Mattila—a construction electrician from Brush Prairie, WA—remarked, “This is nuts, they’re going to have to accommodate us somehow. Why would they hold this in such a small room?”

Unfortunately for Mr. Mattila and many others, precious few chairs of the only 90 or so provided ever opened up. Frustrated about the lack of space, many people who didn’t get in promptly left the event. Regardless, a dedicated collection of would-be attendees stuck around to vent their frustrations to whatever reporter or passerby happened upon them. I stuck to see what they had to say.

The vast majority of folks I met were from Washington and many of them were there to voice concerns that the Columbia River Crossing project was still at a standstill. The issue hot on everyone’s lips was the role light rail should play in the proposed CRC and where on/off ramps should be placed. A good number of those outside stressed that light rail would bring in more crime from Portland to Vancouver. Some believed buses were the better alternative to light rail; some even proposed building a third bridge rather than updating or reconstructing the bridge on I-5.

One gentleman with whom I spoke thought that the entirety of I-205 should be four lanes in either direction. Precious few thought that more people bicycling, carpooling, and riding public transit could reduce the congestion on the existing I-5 Bridge.

Regarding active transportation improvements, an ardent Ron Paul supporter told me that, “The Government can’t force people to live a certain way.” Standing nearby, a bicycle activist and friend, Kiel Johnson, was quick to respond, “But doesn’t a government policy that encourages expanded freeways do just that? It encourages more people to live their lives around their cars instead of more sustainable and lower-cost transportation.” (Induced demand was not a concept widely accepted by many of those in attendance.)

An exception to the trend was a group called Build that Bridge!. A collection of self-described ‘concerned citizens’ from the Vancouver area, their goal is to have some quantifiable progress on the CRC project. They want a 21st century transportation solution that includes increased walking and bicycling infrastructure as well as streetcars and hopefully light rail into the Portland Metro Area. One of their members, Nick Ande, expressed his frustration that for 10 years, very little progress had been made on the CRC. While admitting that he wanted action on the CRC, he was quick to say that “putting a timetable on the CRC isn’t realistic.” Another one of their supporters, Susan Saul, expressed her frustration by saying, “I’m not an engineer, I just want an agreed upon solution.”

Inside the hearing, only about five citizens (one of them a former Washington State DOT Commissioner) were given the opportunity to speak. They were randomly chosen from hundreds of raffle tickets handed out before the event. Representative Jamie Herrera Beutler, the congresswoman who sits on the House T & I Committee and whose office was in charge of organizing the event, acknowledged the lack of space and regretted that not everyone got a chance to speak. “We’ll do better at that next time,” she said, while noting that the Committee will hold a two-week comment period open to anyone who’d like to share their ideas.

[Publisher’s note: This story was written by BikePortland News Intern Patrick Croasdaile. I was inside the hearing and will publish a recap soon. — JM]

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