Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
August 20, 2014

Bridge Drama: Oregon-Washington Discord Stymies Effort to Replace Span

It was a routine transportation advisory of the kind you often see: two lanes of the southbound Interstate 5 bridge which spans the Columbia River between Portland, Ore. and Vancouver, Wash., will be closed 11 p.m. to 4:30 a.m. four nights this week for electrical work, inspections, and maintenance, said the Oregon Department of Transportation.

The work will be done on the southbound bridge — built in 1958 — but what caught the eye was the age of the northbound span: It opened almost 100 years ago in 1917.

The notice was a reminder that interstate discord, not lack of federal funding, can sometimes explain why infrastructure projects seem to take forever to get built, or don’t get built at all.

The Vancouver Columbian reported recently that a group of lawmakers from both Oregon and Washington — called the Bi-State Bridge Coalition — has been meeting to try to find a new approach in the wake of the failed Columbia River Crossing project.

The newspaper summed up the history: “After Washington lawmakers declined to vote [in 2013] to pay their share of the Columbia River Crossing, which would have replaced the Interstate 5 Bridge, Oregon’s governor pushed ahead to consider an Oregon-only version of the project. The go-it-alone strategy failed to garner enough votes earlier this year, and the project was declared dead.”

The newspaper also reported that “the controversial plan to replace the I-5 Bridge and extend light rail into Vancouver spent close to $200 million on planning.”

On its website the now-defunct Columbia River Crossing project explains that “the current bridge structures are vulnerable in the event of a significant earthquake.” And it said if there were no new bridge, “congestion will grow from today’s four to six hour daily traffic jam to 15 hours per day by 2030 as the region accommodates a million more people.”

  • larryscheib

    We should let another 10 years pass for a new group of politicians to work on CRC. These last ones already blew 1 billion (200 million for pre-construction work and 800 million for public transportation grant that some other state is salivating over). Hopefully we don’t have an Alaska Viaduct type situation before then. A dedicated trucking bridge would be nice but no sympathy for the 15,000 Clark County commuters from Vancouver, they and their politicians blew their chance. Portland’s LR has a lot of short-comings and too bad Seattle planners didn’t help design it but the CRC 4-station line was a no-brainer. Would have made the yellow line the least expensive operating line in Portland.

  • brian199511

    It is primarily “no spending” and “no vision” GOPers who screwed this project up. The I-5 bridge is the single biggest obstacle to economic development on the west coast. We really need two bridges, one to replace the I-5 bridge and another one to the west.

  • Kim Gault-morby

    It is disturbing to me to see name calling and blame when the project was not “screwed” by “GOPers”. The CRC was to be a simple bridge crossing building a new bridge with more lanes in both directions…simple !! but the portland people wanted the light rail or nothing !! Washington didnt see a need for a light rail system that was already a burden on the city of portland and multnomah county. then add to it the green people who wanted some kind of energy device added to the bridge to generate electricity !! sheesh !! If oregon “liberals” would have kept out of it with their “we want the moon” concepts and voted for a simple bridge it would have already been built !!

  • Kim Gault-morby

    not to mention the “toll bridge” concept where only washingtonians paid a toll and oregon kept the money…….no wonder this bridge never got off the ground !!

  • larryscheib

    toll was not for Oregon to keep but to pay for the bridge seeing how Washington wasn’t forthcoming with their share. If Clark County residents want Oregon jobs then the 15,000 commuters from Clark County need to be part of Portland’s transportation system otherwise stay the bleep over in Washington and leave the Oregon salaries for Oregon workers.

  • Evan Manvel

    This article is full of errors; the CRC was only about 25% a bridge project – 50% six other highway interchanges and lanes – and 25% light rail expansion. So the headline explaining it as an effort to replace a bridge span is misleading at best.

    Furthermore, ODOT’s own engineers have said the bridge can last indefinitely if maintained, and we’ve spent tens of millions on maintenance of the bridge.

    Interstate discord is a nice way of saying we might have other priorities for $4,000,000,000+.

    • larryscheib

      not sure where 4 billion came from; i thought it was more like 3.3 billion. Also, WDOT said the 60 year old Alaska Viaduct would hold out with maintenance. Look at the problems they are now having with it.

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