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Transportation forum addresses projects big to small

Different transportation initiatives are underway or planned in Vancouver, from replacing the Interstate 5 Bridge to launching ferry service from Vancouver to downtown Portland.

More than 50 people attended Vancouver’s Downtown Association’s transportation panel discussion last week at the Hilton Vancouver Washington to hear about these and other projects.

The discussion ranged from replacing a critical component on the I-5 Bridge, used by more than 130,000 vehicles a day, to operating an all-electric van that would provide two-hour tours of Vancouver’s top historical sites.

Interstate 5 Bridge

Ron Arp, president of Identity Clark County, heralded recent developments after the Columbia River Crossing crashed and burned in 2013.

Those include the 2019 Legislature allocating $17.5 million for a project office and $17.5 million for planning and pre-design of a new bridge. Last week, Oregon appointed eight state legislators to a bridge committee and agreed to provide $9 million for the project office.

“We are going to replace this I-5 Bridge,” Arp said. “It’s going to take a lot time. It’s going to take a lot of work.”

“Edison didn’t invent the light bulb the first time,” he said. “And Microsoft didn’t invent Windows the first time.”

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Bridge trunnion

No one knows when the I-5 Bridge will be replaced, if ever. Not so for a major repair project coming up in 13 months.

In September 2020, the I-5 Bridge’s northbound span will be shut down to replace two trunnions, part of the lifting mechanism that allows taller vessels to pass under the bridge’s twin spans.

The mechanism includes sheaves, or wheels about 12 feet in diameter, cables and trunnions, which are axles that help turn the sheaves and lift and lower the span for marine traffic below.

In 1999, a crack was found in one of the trunnions on the northbound span’s south tower, just two years after the span was shut down to replace the other two trunnions in September 1997.

Ellen Sweeney, community affairs coordinator for the Oregon Department of Transportation in the Portland area, said the replacement will require closing the northbound span for up to two weeks in September 2020.

All vehicle traffic will be switched over to the three-lane southbound span. As was the case during the 1997 closure, a reversible lane will be used to create two travel lanes to accommodate rush hour traffic into Portland in the morning and two lanes for afternoon traffic to Clark County.

Jessica Bull, a program manager with JLA Public Involvement, said if drivers do not change their travel habits during trunnion replacement, backups could stretch for 4 miles on either side of the Columbia River and congestion could more than double, from 7 hours to 16 hours a day.

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CEO Shawn Donaghy reviewed a number of initiatives his agency has underway, including expanding The Vine bus rapid transit system onto Mill Plain Boulevard, which would provide high-capacity transit between downtown Vancouver and a planned transit center west of 192nd Avenue.

In September, C-Tran will provide its first direct service from the Fisher’s Landing Transit Center to Portland International Airport, Donaghy said.

C-Tran also is looking to expand its “bus on shoulder” program, which currently operates on a section of state Highway 14. The new service would be on Interstate 5 southbound, from 99th Street to the I-5 Bridge, Donaghy said, adding that the agency wants to have the project running before trunnion replacement in September 2020.

Donaghy said his agency’s Youth Opportunity Pass has seen “a ridership explosion” since it was expanded to provide free bus passes to all students. When the program was available only to low-income students, it provided between 20,000 and 30,000 rides a year, he said. Now that it is open to all students, it provides more than 250,000 rides a year, he said.

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Ferry service

Susan Bladholm, president of Friends of Frog Ferry, said her group proposes to create an all-passenger ferry with no vehicles that would serve commuters, local residents, visitors and tourists, and emergency responders.

“This is not a vanity project,” she said. ” ‘Isn’t this cute and fun?’ I have zero interest in that.”

Bladholm said she is a big supporter of transit and “the bridge,” an apparent reference to replacing the I-5 Bridge.

“We need the bridge,” she said. “However, this is something we can do in the next three years.”

The Federal Transit Administration provides grants to support ferry service in urban areas, Bladholm said, adding that Oregon is one of only 10 states that have not tapped the federal program for ferry dollars.

Frog Ferry service could begin in 2022 or 2023, starting on the Willamette River before expanding to Vancouver, she said. Ferries could whisk commuters from Vancouver to downtown Portland in as little as 38 minutes, she said.

“I feel very confident standing before you today saying this will happen,” Bladholm said.

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Rethink your drive

Shara Wokal, chief financial officer at LSW Architects, said Rethink Your Ride, or ryd, has been doing 18 months of beta-testing to meet niche transportation needs in downtown Vancouver.

The program allows people to avoid parking hassles and receive free service at ryd stops in downtown Vancouver during non-peak hours, Wokal said. Those who use the subscription plan can receive unlimited service in the ryd zone in downtown for a monthly fee, she said.

The program uses distinctive vehicles that look like elongated golf carts and are 100 percent electric powered, she said.

The program partners with several local companies and organizations, including LSW Architects, Clark Public Utilities, C-Tran, Columbia River Economic Development Council and the city of Vancouver.

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The TourVAN

Imagine being able to take a 2-hour tour of the top historical attractions in Vancouver.

Two proponents of such a project describe it as a transportation anomaly: an all-electric vehicle carrying the smallest number of people traveling at the slowest speed possible with multiple stops.

Well, not exactly the smallest number of people. Richard Burrows, director of community outreach and engagement for The Historic Trust, said the TourVAN would seat 14 people.

Brad Richardson, executive director of the Clark County Historical Museum, said the museum had done walking tours, but this would take that effort to the next level.

“For the first time, all of our historical narratives can be told,” he said.


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