Report from the Bi-State Forum

I attended the Bi-State Metropolitan Forum (subtitled: Building a Healthy Economy for Oregon and Washington) yesterday.

We were addressed by Mayor Potter of Portland and Mayor Pollard of Vancouver, and both Governors, as well as Metro President David Bragdon and an economic development expert from Rhode Island.

The Columbia River Crossing was a recurrent transportation theme (its importance to our economy). Both Mayors endorsed Light Rail to Vancouver and Mayor Potter was explicit that this should be over both the I-5 and I-205 bridges.

Both Mayors also discussed the idea of merging the Ports of Portland and Vancouver into one organization.

Governor Kulongoski made a big point out of biodiesel, and Governor Gregoire talked about alternative energy and energy independence (including less dependence on the existing hydro resources). The idea of some kind of bi-state transportation district or compact to get around differences in Oregon and Washington governance frameworks was also thrown out.

There was a panel with senior managers from each DOT and there was a big emphasis on gaining credibility with voters by delivering projects on time and on budget (are the Tram folks listening?). ODOT director Matt Garrett mentioned the need for about $180M in freight rail investment on the Oregon side of the river (Washington has already allocated about $100M on their side) and the difficulty of making this a public investment since the rails are privately owned.

By the time we got to the breakout session on transportation, a little bit of reality got injected. At my table a Clark County Commissioner said that the voters in Clark County weren’t ready for Light Rail yet. There was some good discussion about more focus on job/housing balance to reduce demand on the Columbia River bridges.

Between the Governors and the lunch speaker, there was also some focus on the idea of thinking in terms of a “Pacific NW” region or metroplex extending from Eugene to Vancouver, BC.

Lots of ideas and hopefully building some connections, but no lightening bolts.

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