In Our View: Bridges Are Vital to Ports

Editorial, May 28, 2013, The Columbian

Many Clark County residents might not know much about Prince Rupert, B.C., and for good reason. It’s a city of only about 13,000 people. But the more you learn about Prince Rupert, the easier it is to understand why the Port of Vancouver and the Port of Portland avidly support the Columbia River Crossing and the commercial trade improvements the project offers.Prince Rupert boasts the fastest-growing container terminal in North America. Located on the coast in mid-British Columbia, it’s the closest North American port to Asia. And it’s the deepest ice-free harbor in North America. Shippers are attracted to both of those attributes.

Although they might never admit it, Prince Rupert Port Authority officials might take some delight at the continuing bickering here over the CRC. They know that every day the congestion continues on our Interstate 5 Bridge, cargo shippers — who more than being conservatives or liberals are money makers — consider using some port other than Vancouver’s or Portland’s. Prince Rupert leaders gladly proclaim: Come on up!

This is one of many reasons legislators in Washington must match Oregon’s funding of the CRC.

Last week’s collapse of the Skagit River Bridge near Mount Vernon — now that public-safety concerns of the incident have been largely resolved — can also be seen as advantageous to the Port of Prince Rupert. Of the 70,000-plus vehicles that used the bridge each day, 12 percent carried commercial loads, much of it international cargo that the Port of Prince Rupert would love to import or export.

And this is one of many reasons a temporary replacement bridge must be expedited for the Skagit River. Fortunately, Gov. Jay Inslee announced on Sunday that such a makeshift structure could be in place in as soon as three weeks. Long-term, though, permanent improvements must be accelerated there, just as here at our Columbia River.

Washingtonians are learning a lot more these days about bridges and commercial trade, as we realize that virtually every product we use comes to us by truck, much of it through ports. The Associated Press reported recently that $10 billion in freight crosses the Skagit River annually, a great deal of it headed for California and Mexico via our Interstate 5 Bridge. Canadian vehicles using that bridge have almost doubled in the past decade; in 2012 the total was almost 2 million.

Thus, the importance of Washington bridges to economic vitality must not be ignored. Will highly competitive global business leaders choose to use a port in Long Beach, Calif., or Prince Rupert, B.C., or somewhere in between? Perhaps a port in Vancouver or Portland that depends heavily on the Columbia River Crossing? Lawmakers in Olympia can help answer that question.

The economically harmful traffic congestion in Mount Vernon was caused by a bridge accident, and the problem could be mostly relieved in a month or so. The bridge congestion here has grown for decades through neglect of infrastructure. The longer the inaction continues, the more it will cost Clark County in commerce and jobs.

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