Bridge Drama: Oregon-Washington Discord Stymies Effort to Replace Span
Posted at 11 p.m. on June 15, 2014
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.”