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Move ahead on river crossing

Portland-area residents were highly involved and made many significant decisions in Tuesday's primary election.

Now, and for the next several weeks, they need to remain civically engaged in another matter by encouraging regional and local leaders to invest in improvements to the Interstate 5 Columbia River Crossing.

These improvements can better link Portland and Vancouver, while reducing congestion, improving safety and the environment, accommodating population growth and ensuring that the region's trade- and freight-dependent economy moves smoothly.

Over the past several years, a diverse task force from Oregon and Washington has studied how to improve the congested Columbia River Crossing, where traffic clogs for hours on end during morning and evening commute times.

The task force also has studied future needs for an area where, without improvement, congestion is expected to double by 2030 - when the crossing will be causing traffic backups for more than 15 hours per day.

Also needed are improvements to I-5 interchanges on either side of the current Interstate Bridge, which actually is two structures that were built in 1917 and 1958.

Citizens must weigh in

The choices ahead for the Columbia River Crossing offer a chance to invest in responsible, balanced transportation and land-use solutions - including tolls - that will reduce the impact of transportation on the environment.

These improvements will not occur by standing still, but will require investments that could cost as much as $4.02 billion.

Immediate action, leadership and investment - and a strong dose of public confidence and trust - are essential to move this effort forward.

The public can assist by learning more about the Columbia River Crossing and weighing in on five alternative solutions. A series of open houses and public hearings on the matter will be held beginning May 28 and lasting well into July.

To have any impact, citizens of varied interests must engage in this matter now, not later. The Columbia River Crossing has drawn concern from people who are working to fight global warming and want traffic relief to occur in other ways.

The project also has attracted criticism from those who simply believe that any highway improvements are unwise investments and contribute to unmanaged growth.

Best solution combines many modes

Some challenges to the crossing project have been insightful and seek the best solution possible. Others have merely tried to muddy the waters by labeling the comprehensive proposed solutions as simply a bridge or freeway project, or by calling some alternative solutions 'behemoth.'

We disagree with this kind of approach, not only because of its limited accuracy, but also because such strategies don't fully address solutions - they only throw down obstacles.

It's time for the Portland area - helped by investments from federal and state partners from Oregon and Washington - to move forward. This can be done by selecting the Columbia River Crossing alternative solution that would replace the existing interstate bridge system, bring light rail and expanded bus service to Vancouver, vastly improve bike and pedestrian features, improve safety and fix off-bridge interchange problem areas.

An important opportunity for the public to weigh in on the matter is at a Metro hearing June 5. Don't let special interests, pro or con, dominate the discussion. It's your community and your future. Help decide it by getting informed and involved.