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Pollard, Potter: Should Ports Join?

by Don Hamilton, Staff Writer
The Columbian, March 17, 2006

Vancouver and Portland should consider merging their two ports, the mayors of the two cities said Thursday at a forum looking at bistate issues.

The daylong Bi-State Metropolitan Forum at Portland State University examined ways Oregon and Washington could address common issues and common problems. Joining the mayors were the governors of the two states: Washington's Chris Gregoire and Oregon's Ted Kulongoski.

Much of the discussion centered on the need for education that meets the needs of the future, more aggressive economic development and, most of all, improving the Interstate 5 bottleneck.

But the two mayors Royce Pollard of Vancouver and Tom Potter of Portland added that they wanted to see if a port merger made sense.

"I see one area where we could move a lot further," Pollard said during a question-and-answer session with Potter moderated by Scott Campbell, publisher of The Columbian. "I'd like to see a day where we have one port authority, Vancouver and Portland. We'd drive the economic engine that we have for the success of our region. I think it's worth looking to that in the future."

Potter said the issue intrigued him and wondered whether money could be saved in administration and marketing.

"The proximity begs the question," Potter said after the forum. "Why shouldn't we at least look at entering into more collaborative activity?"

The idea, though, was only that: an idea. No merger talks have taken place between the two ports, said Larry Paulson, executive director of the Port of Vancouver, who attended the conference and was surprised when he heard the proposal.

"I said, 'That's news to me,'" Paulson said.

Paulson said he suspects the notion of the two ports merging served only as an example of interstate cooperation. The two ports already operate a joint marketing agreement, travel together on overseas trips, share a floating dock and sit on several interstate committees

"I think there are a lot of issues," he said.

The governors addressed ways the states could cooperate to promote tourism, attract jobs and improve schools.

"When I go on a trade mission," Gregoire said, "I'm really promoting the Pacific Northwest." They also both promoted their efforts to improve schools and work-force training.

They vehemently agreed that the states need to address the I-5 bottleneck, which slows the flow of freight all along the West Coast. The problem has vexed planners and budgeters for years. A bistate commission has proposed a new I-5 bridge, but the prospect is structurally complicated and very expensive, with estimates running well over $1 billion. Washington recently appropriated $50 million for preliminary engineering.

The 39 Washington and Oregon members of the Columbia River Crossing Task Force are studying ways to improve the corridor.

"The I-5 bridge is not the city of Vancouver's bridge," Pollard said. "It's not Portland's bridge. It really isn't Clark County's or the state of Washington's. It's the nation's. It's I-5. If we can't move trade and commerce, we're destined for some real problems."

Pollard and Potter said connecting Clark County to Portland's light rail system along I-5 and I-205 also could help ease traffic.

"I'd love to see light rail extended into Vancouver so we could get folks into Portland without congesting our freeways," Potter said. He responded to the resulting applause with, "Thank you, Portland people," a not so thinly veiled reference to Clark County's defeat of a light-rail proposal a decade ago.

Kulongoski pointed to the Paul McCartney song "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" as inspiration for their efforts. "Hands across the water," he quoted, "Hands across the sky."

"It's a great song," he said. "It's a great message."

Don Hamilton
Pollard, Potter: Should Ports Join?
The Columbian, March 17, 2006

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