Vancouver federal legislative agenda: New I-5 bridge top goal

Relationships with Oregon crucial, city's federal government liaison says

The Columbian - Local News
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In Vancouver, it all comes down to the Interstate 5 Bridge.

Vancouver federal legislative agenda: New I-5 bridge top goal

The city council was briefed on its 2019 federal legislative agenda Monday night, and unsurprisingly, replacing the I-5 Bridge was the top goal.

“We need to lay the groundwork to build the relationships once again in Oregon,” said Joel Rubin, the city’s federal government liaison.

Rubin said that having U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., in his new position as House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman should help Southwest Washington.

DeFazio said after the November election that he anticipated working on a $500 billion bipartisan infrastructure package by June and intends to put focus on projects of “regional and national significance.”

But if Vancouver hopes to get in on new federal funding to replace the bridge, Rubin said, proponents need to get to work developing a project.

“If we’re going to get an earmark into that bill, we would need to have an idea of what the project looks like by the end of 2019 or beginning of 2020,” he said.

While Southwest Washington has made its renewed intentions known regarding a replacement bridge, Oregon has yet to formally return to the bargaining table after Washington Republicans killed the Columbia River Crossing project more than five years ago.

Vancouver will also continue to work with Oregon regarding freeway tolling. The city will once again fund lobbyists at the Oregon Legislature to keep an eye on any developments.

“I think it’s already provided value added for the decision on the tolling side, but I think it’s going to continue to provide value on that and the future bridge discussion,” Rubin said.

Agenda also includes money for C-Tran, fire department

A new bridge isn’t the only policy item on the city’s congressional agenda for next year.

The largest budget item comes from C-Tran, which is seeking $50 million from the Federal Transit Administration Small Starts Grant program to help fund the Mill Plain Bus Rapid Transit system.

The city is also seeking $7 million in Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development grant funding to help pay for the Southeast First Street Improvement Project. In theory, rebuilding the narrow, congested corridor between Northeast 162nd and 192nd avenues will spark economic growth as it increases multi-modal access to the Columbia Tech Center.

The Vancouver Fire Department has four action items on the 2019 agenda. One may look familiar. In 2018, the VFD was unsuccessful in getting a $738,000 grant approved to replace one of its three aerial ladder trucks. The department will seek a grant again this year. Rubin is cautiously optimistic about its chances.

The VFD is also seeking $799,000 to replace 107 firefighter air packs that don’t meet standards, $209,000 for hazardous materials response training and $252,000 to support risk reduction education through Project Home Safe.

“I’m really looking forward to 2019,” Rubin said. “There’s a lot of opportunities with the grants you’ve already submitted at the end of this year and a few more grants that are going to be submitted in 2019, along with potential earmarking opportunities, an infrastructure package and the I-5 bridge and putting that project together.”

The 116th U.S. Congress convenes Jan. 3.