Online exclusive: I-5 bridge presents solutions, raises concerns

Due to a number of transit concerns, members of the Columbia River Crossing project task force have proposed a new Interstate-5 bridge over the Columbia River.

Due to a number of transit concerns, members of the Columbia River Crossing project task force have proposed a new Interstate-5 bridge over the Columbia River. The bridge is meant to address issues considered by many to negatively affect movement along of the five-mile stretch of the I-5 between Vancouver and Portland.

“There are six primary problems that have been identified in this corridor,” said Anne Pressentine, spokesperson for the Columbia River Crossing project. 

According to Pressentine, the six problems identified are: congestion, high crash rate, poor freight mobility, limited public-transit options, inadequate bicycle and pedestrian pathways and earthquake risk. 

The CRC is a project specifically addressing bridge, transit and highway issues along the section of I-5 between SR 500 in Vancouver and Columbia Boulevard in Portland. The project also seeks to improve highway interchanges between these locations, according to the CRC’s website.

Several supplemental and replacement bridge options with varying emphases on public transit have been considered over the last few years, but a panel recently chose to move ahead with the Locally Preferred Alternative—a replacement bridge with a light rail. 

“In all of alternatives we’ve looked at we [were] looking to address all of [these six problems],” Pressentine said. “All of our partner agencies weighed in and they all selected the Locally Preferred Alternative.” 

The bridge itself will be made up of two structures with a total of 10 lanes, larger safety shoulders, and will not include a bridge-lift. 

“[The current bridge] is just one of six lift-bridges on the interstate system…and the others don’t lift as often,” Pressentine said, adding that because of the hump, “the limited sight distance leads to rear-ends.”  

Contributing agencies and groups for the CRC include several citizen-comprised advisory groups and a Project Sponsors Council organized by the governors of both Oregon and Washington, which is also led by citizen co-chairs.  

“The Governors of Oregon and Washington should be commended for stepping back and looking at this project from a fresh angle,” said Oregon Senator Jeff Merkely. “I’m confident they will continue working to develop both the construction plan and the associated financial plan.” 

The estimated $3.2 to $3.6 million needed for the project is expected to come from three sources: the federal government, the states of Oregon and Washington jointly and toll revenue generated from the proposed bridge.  

However, according to the CRC’s website, there are still pending design decisions that will affect the cost estimate.

“We’re trying to nail down some of the specifics,” Pressentine said.  

But some are still skeptical of the imprecise nature of the plan. 

“We have no idea where the money will come from,” said Vivek Shandas, associate professor of urban studies and planning at Portland State. “We have no prospects for how we’re going to foot the bill.” 

According to Shandas, the purported air-quality effects of the project are similarly troubling. The CRC’s website claims that, among other compounds, carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides will be reduced significantly by 2030—30 and 70 percent, respectively—due to “cleaner fuels, cleaner engines and more fuel efficient vehicles.”  

Shandas, however, remains unconvinced, claiming that these are speculative analyses. 

“The [environmental impact statement] is essentially making a lot of assumptions,” Shandas said. 

The CRC expects to have cost estimates and the financial plan, as well as the environmental impact statement and property acquisition, finalized by the end of 2011. It also hopes to finalize the design concepts by 2012.  

The environmental impact statement will include an analysis of environmental and community effects and is required to receive a Record of Decision (ROD) from the federal government. Pending receipt of the ROD, initial construction is expected to begin in 2013. 

Public comment is encouraged, according to the CRC, and more information can be found at