Transportation Issues in the News
The following article was prepared by RTC staff. We felt this topic would be of broad interest to our site’s visitors and offer insight into at least one emphasis area of the agency’s current focus. We plan to update these feature articles on a regular basis, so check back for new content!
The Vancouver Area Smart Trek (VAST) program, led by RTC, is a partnership of transportation agencies in the Clark County region that work to improve transportation system performance by collaborating on signal systems, freeway and arterial management, traveler information, and transit signal priority projects through the use of smart technology and the system infrastructure needed to support it.
The VAST program focuses on the non-capital side of regional transportation planning. The VAST agencies (WSDOT, Clark County, City of Vancouver, C-TRAN, and City of Camas) have been cooperating since 2001 to make better use of existing transportation facilities by improving system efficiency and performance without expanding road capacity.
This cooperation has been a valuable pathway for developing and securing funding for ITS/operations projects totaling more than $27 million in federal funding over the last 15 years, resulting in projects that directly improve transportation operations and building the supporting communications technology systems.
Projects funded through the program include central signal system upgrades, new signal controllers, signal optimization, ramp metering, freeway and arterial detection, cameras, variable message signs, and transit signal priority as well as the fiber and network communications infrastructure needed for connecting ITS devices.
VAST collaboration has also led to other successful partnerships. RTC and the VAST agencies have an ongoing partnership with Portland State University in the regional transportation data archive known as Portal. The Portal archive contains, in a single location, historical and real-time transportation data from agencies in the Vancouver-Portland region and can be used by researchers, planners, traffic engineers, and the public to look at transportation performance throughout the region.
Fiber optic networks are vital to communicating with and operating transportation devices in the field for and bringing data back to agency operations centers. VAST agencies have had an agreement in place since 2006 to share unused fiber capacity with each other saving agency costs and resources instead of having to build new fiber routes separately. This agreement has led to 115 miles of shared fiber, saving agencies from $17 to $21 million than if they were to construct their own projects.
In looking to future transportation trends and advances in technology, many experts envision tremendous growth of connected vehicles, which can exchange data with roadside infrastructure, and autonomous, or self driving, vehicles. Forecasts on the impact of these imminent mobility changes vary wildly. RTC, in cooperation with the VAST partners, is starting a conversation with regional stakeholders to make sense of the possible impact on roadways, land use, and transit service and is an area that will be explored in 2018.
Below are an assortment of recent news items related to or impacting local transportation issues. Most of these stories were authored outside the agency, and will take you to a new page on (or PDF document from) an external site.
- Southwest Regional Transportation Council endorses I-5 Bridge replacement - December 3, 2019
- Efforts to replace the Interstate 5 Bridge continued to pick up steam Tuesday as the Southwest Regional Transportation Council supported a statement listing the project as “Action #1.” The RTC’s board of directors voted to endorse the Clark County Transportation Alliance’s 2020 Policy Statement that backs other projects to ease Interstate 5 congestion, such as improving traffic flow near the Rose Quarter and the I-5/Interstate 84 interchange in Portland. The policy statement also supports accelerating state funding for interchange improvements at I-5 and 179th Street. Last month, the Clark County Council removed a de facto moratorium and opened the door for building more than 1,500 single-family houses, apartments and townhomes in the area.
- Washington, Oregon governors sign agreement to replace I-5 Bridge - November 18, 2019
- Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown signed an agreement Monday morning to work cooperatively to replace the Interstate 5 Bridge between their two states. The two governors sat at a table at the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust at The Waterfront Vancouver, with the distinctive green bridge in the background, to reinvigorate the nascent process to replace the twin spans, which opened in 1917 and 1958. “I could not be more excited about an endeavor that unites the energies of two states,” Inslee said. “And the reason is that bridges, besides being steel, are essentially monuments to optimism. And our two states are extremely optimistic. We believe in a dynamic growth-oriented future.”
- I-976 puts Vancouver’s street projects in jeopardy - November 16, 2019
- Vancouver’s $40 annual vehicle license fee raised $3.82 million in 2018, which the city leveraged to match state and federal transportation grants, bringing in an additional $8.4 million. That funding, combined with the $4.23 million that the city brings in through other taxes and surcharges, paid for more than $11 million in pavement management – resurfacing and preserving roads. Around $3 million has been earmarked for upgrading Southeast First Street, where a two-lane rural road needs sidewalks, bike lanes, street lights and sound walls. Another half-million went toward bike and pedestrian safety projects around the city, such as signaled crosswalks. The passage of Initiative 976, which caps car tabs at $30 statewide and prohibits cities from tacking on extra fees, means the road-work schedule in Vancouver might look very different next year.
- Inslee, Brown to sign I-5 Bridge agreement Monday in Vancouver - November 15, 2019
- Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said Friday that they will be in Vancouver on Monday to announce a joint effort to replace the Interstate 5 Bridge. The two governors, both Democrats, are scheduled to sign a letter of intent toward replacing the bridge’s twin spans with a modern crossing that would ease congestion and be better able to withstand a strong earthquake, according to news releases from the governors’ offices. Specifics of what’s in the agreement are not expected to be revealed until the two governors sign the document at 10:30 a.m. Monday at The Waterfront Vancouver, not far from the bridge itself.
- I-5 Bridge panel hears report on why other concepts were rejected - November 13, 2019
- For more than 15 years, residents from both sides of the Columbia River have floated their own ideas for unlocking chronic traffic congestion between Washington and Oregon. Suggestions have included a tunnel to whisk vehicles under the Columbia River, a beltway freeway ringing the Portland-Vancouver area and various options for third bridges carrying arterial streets over the river. During the second meeting of a bistate committee of state legislators on the Interstate 5 Bridge, a top-ranking transportation official reviewed how those and other options were systematically studied and rejected during the previous Columbia River Crossing project.
- County keeps pushing to expedite work on 179th Street interchange - November 7, 2019
- If letter grades were doled out for persistence, Clark County would get an A for pushing to expedite state funding for the 179th Street interchange at Interstate 5. The county started trying to change the schedule shortly after state lawmakers in 2015 included $50 million for the interchange in the $16 billion Connecting Washington transportation package, which is primarily funded by an 11.9 cent increase in the state’s gas tax. In December 2016, then-County Manager Mark McCauley said accelerating state funding was “absolutely vital to the economic future of unincorporated areas.” Nearly three years later, the county has been unable to shift the 2023-2025 timeline for the state providing funding to rebuild or improve an interchange constructed nearly 60 years ago.
- $30 car tab measure passes in Washington, billions to be cut - November 6, 2019
- Washington voters have approved a measure cutting car tabs to $30, heartily endorsing an idea that has been around for decades in a move that will cut billions of dollars from transportation budgets and leave governments scrambling for a way to pay for road paving, light rail and other projects. Initiative 976 had a healthy lead after early returns Tuesday night and continued to pass by large margins as votes were counted Wednesday. King County, the state’s most populous, was rejecting I-976 but most other counties were approving it. The measure passed in Clark County, 61.33 percent to 38.67 percent.
- $30 car tabs passing in early voting returns - November 5, 2019
- A Washington initiative that would slash car tabs to $30 and leave the state and local governments scrambling to pay for road paving and other transportation projects was passing in early returns Tuesday. Returns showed Initiative 976 passing after the first votes were tallied in the all mail election. Sponsored by Tim Eyman, the measure would cap most taxes paid through annual vehicle registration at $30 and largely revoke the authority of state and local governments to add new taxes and fees without voter approval. The measure would also repeal taxes and fees that were already in place, which could cost the state and local governments more than $4 billion in revenue over the next six years, according to the state Office of Financial Management.
- Washougal ceremony celebrates ‘functional completion’ of Highway 14 roundabouts - October 30, 2019
- Mayor Molly Coston has noticed a distinct shift in how residents view roundabouts, based on social media posts. When the Washington State Department of Transportation first proposed building two roundabouts on state Highway 14 more than three years ago, the online reaction was overwhelmingly negative, with about 90 percent opposed to the idea, she said. “Now I would say it’s pretty balanced,” Coston said Wednesday afternoon after she and other dignitaries cut a ceremonial ribbon marking what WSDOT calls “functional completion” of the roundabouts, at Washougal River Road/15th Street and 32nd Street. That means most major construction and striping is done, although there could be sporadic lane closures for several more weeks as final electrical work and landscaping is completed on the $7.5 million project.
- Ridgefield railroad overpass project out to bid after several delays - October 23, 2019
- The Ridgefield overpass project is finally out to bid. The roughly $15 million Pioneer Street Railroad Overpass Project received its last bit of funding — a $900,000 Railroad Safety Grant, in February 2016 — but endured repeated delays. The hope was construction would start sometime in 2017, with an 18-month construction window. It took port officials longer than expected to secure federal air rights for the project, since the overpass will pass over BNSF Railway tracks. Then the port had to reopen its environmental impact study, thanks to a herd of once-endangered Columbian white-tailed deer.
- Bistate I-5 Bridge committee to meet Friday in Vancouver - October 22, 2019
- A 12-member committee of state legislators from Washington and Oregon will meet for the first time Friday to discuss replacing the Interstate 5 Bridge. The bistate committee will meet at 1:30 p.m. at Vancouver City Hall, 415 W. Sixth St. The agenda includes a discussion of how the committee will be organized, as well as a presentation from the Washington and Oregon transportation departments on the need to replace the I-5 Bridge. The committee will work to pick up the pieces from the Columbia River Crossing, a project that broke apart after the Washington Senate in 2013 balked at matching Oregon’s $450 million construction commitment. The $3 billion-plus megaproject would have replaced the bridge’s twin spans, upgraded freeway interchanges on both sides of the Columbia River and extended Oregon’s light-rail line to Clark College.
- Interstate Bridge closure scheduled for nine days in September 2020 - October 18, 2019
- The closure next year of the northbound span of the Interstate Bridge will last for nine days in September 2020, ODOT announced in a public mailing this week. The closure is expected to create significant traffic snarls and delays. ODOT is also ramping up its public information campaign advising the public of the project and to plan ahead for the expected congestion and travel impacts. The 102-year-old northbound span will close while crews replace a cracked trunnion and other mechanical parts in the south tower on the northbound span. The trunnion is the axle at the top of each tower that supports the weight of the bridge and counterweights to help raise and lower the lift span. A similar trunnion repair was carried out in 1997 on the north tower of the southbound span.
- 9-day Closure of Interstate Bridge - October 17, 2019
- The northbound span of the Interstate Bridge will close from September 12–September 20, 2020 as crews replace mechanical parts that help lift and lower the bridge. The southbound span will remain open to traffic in both directions. Because the work takes place overhead, the northbound bridge must close to keep drivers safe and to provide access for construction crews and heavy equipment. Traffic impacts on the Interstate Bridge and Interstate 5 will begin late August 2020 and continue into late September 2020 in addition to the full closure of the northbound bridge.
- New I-5 Bridge project: Here we go, again … again - October 13, 2019
- Political voices on both sides of the Columbia River are striking a positive tone and avoiding past battles as they launch a second effort to replace the Interstate 5 Bridge. Lurking beneath the veneer of tranquility are the same issues that polarized the region a decade ago: opposition to tolling, hostility toward light rail, support for a third Columbia River bridge, concerns about climate change, and a sneaking suspicion this $3 billion-plus megaproject will cost too much and deliver too little. Nearly $200 million was spent on the Columbia River Crossing. The project achieved important milestones, including the federal government’s December 2011 decision that it had met the National Environmental Policy Act’s stringent provisions. Eighteen months later, the project fell apart.