Officials seek end of carpool lane on I-5
State Sen. Don Benton says the eight-year experiment in Vancouver has been an expensive failure
Tuesday, May 03, 2005
By Bill Stewart
VANCOUVER -- Regional transportation officials asked Tuesday that a controversial carpool lane on Interstate 5 be closed.
The request will go to the Washington Transportation Commission, which has the final word.
State Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, a nonvoting member of the Southwest Washington Regional Transportation Council, led the attack against the eight-year experiment, calling it "a miserable failure."
Benton said the carpool lane was supposed to meet eight locally written goals but missed on seven. He accused the Washington Department of Transportation of "manipulation of data to make the lane look better and the two general lanes look worse."
Benton also said the experiment cost $50 million, but most of those costs involved widening Interstate 5 from Vancouver's Main Street to 99th Street in Hazel Dell. The lane runs from 99th Street to just north of the Interstate Bridge. There is no corresponding southbound lane in Oregon.
Vancouver Mayor Royce E. Pollard told Benton that "the future of bistate relations is somewhat on the table today."
"It seems like a disservice not to extend the program until the end of the year," when Oregon expects to decide whether widening the freeway at Delta Park will include a carpool lane, he said.
Benton responded that he is "more concerned about the fragile relationship with our constituents."
The council later agreed to reconsider the Vancouver lane after Oregon makes a decision.
The voice vote was six to cancel the lane and five to continue it, although two of the five losing votes were cast by Oregon officials. The Regional Transportation Council, a planning and highway funds clearinghouse, will ask the Washington attorney general whether Oregon officials can vote on issues that do not cross state lines.
All three Clark County commissioners voted to end the experiment, while Pollard and Vancouver City Manager Pat McDonnell favored keeping the lane open until Oregon makes its Delta Park decision. Don Wagner, regional administrator for the Washington Department of Transportation, abstained, saying any vote would amount to him giving orders to his bosses in Olympia.
County Commissioner Steve Stuart said he "fully supports a functional . . . lane across the river and into Portland."
"The problem is, this is not a functioning high-occupancy vehicle lane," he said.
Sen. Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, also a nonvoting member of the transportation council, backed Benton. He said Oregon's northbound carpool lane "punishes the people paying Oregon taxes," referring to commuters slowed by traffic in the other two lanes.
Reacting to a staff suggestion that more vehicles could use the carpool lane if it were opened to hybrid-powered cars, small delivery trucks or lone drivers paying a toll, Zarelli said, "Hybrid drivers didn't build the lane, and they didn't build the bridge."
Paul Edgar, an Oregon resident, accused the transportation council of ignoring the data collected on the special lane.
He said that motorists getting through Delta Park face a bottleneck where I-5 narrows to two lanes downtown Portland.
Tom Mielke, a former legislator who has announced his candidacy for county commissioner, said the carpool experiment resulted in increased air pollution from congestion and more fender benders involving frustrated drivers.
Bill Stewart: 360-896-5722; 503-294-5900; email@example.com