Potential I-5 bridge replacements revealed

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Work to replace the aging spans of the Interstate 5 bridge system over the Columbia River now shows a clearer picture of what the project would look like as officials revealed a number of options during the latest meeting of Washington and Oregon lawmakers.

During a virtual Oct. 27 meeting, members of the Joint Oregon-Washington Legislative Action Committee heard an update from the Interstate Bridge Replacement Project (IBRP) which included a rundown of different potential setups for the eventual replacement. 

IBRP Deputy Program Manager John Willis laid out the number of options under consideration, which focused on the configuration of the bridge replacement over the Columbia River, the impacts on Vancouver and Hayden Island including interchanges, and what type of high-capacity transit would be used.

For the crossing over the Columbia, Willis presented three options — one with a slight curve with vehicular traffic on an upper level and high-capacity transit, utility access and a multi-use path on lower levels; one with a similar setup but constructed in a more straight path across the river; and one which stacked northbound and southbound vehicular traffic on top of each other, with transit and the multi-use path to the sides of the vehicular stack.

For downtown Vancouver, two options are under consideration, one of which includes the stacked option similar to the third option proposed for the river crossing. The project also looks at using braided ramps and auxiliary lanes for interchanges at Mill Plain and Fourth Plain boulevards while replacing overpasses along I-5 leading up to the river, Willis said. 

On the Oregon side, the project options look at the Hayden Island and Marine Drive interchanges. The options range from a full interchange from I-5 on Hayden Island, a partial interchange using an arterial roadway to connect with Marine Drive, and a “no interchange” option using Marine Drive and a pair of local access roads to the island.

Willis said 10 high capacity transit options were analyzed, including a “no-build” option which was used as a tool to measure the effects each of the other options would have. The build options include a “bus on shoulder” setup, three bus rapid transit options, four light rail transit ones, and a combination bus rapid transit and light rail transit option.

All have dedicated space for high capacity transit between the Portland Expo Center and Hayden Island, as well as on the replacement bridge, and express bus operation on freeway shoulders where possible.

Bus transit options included lines running from Turtle Place in Vancouver to near the Expo Center, one running from near the Kiggins Bowl to the MAX Expo Center station along I-5, and one running from McLoughlin Boulevard through Vancouver’s central business district, crossing the river and ending near the Expo Center.

Three of the four light rail options would follow similar paths as the bus transit options, while an additional option would run from the Expo Center to near Clark College.

The hybrid option would extend C-Tran’s Vine service south along I-5 to Hayden Island, and includes an extension of the MAX line north to the island from the Expo Center stop.

Though the configuration of where the lanes would be located are currently present in the options, the number of lanes still needs to be decided, Willis said. With regard to dedicated freight lanes, IBRP Administrator Greg Johnson said in order to be effective, the scope would have to be greater than what the bridge project entails.

“It can’t just be this five-mile corridor,” Johnson said, adding it could be something discussed at a regional level.

Program officials also presented how much has already been spent on the multi-billion-dollar project. Since the IBRP began spending funds in July 2019, IBRP Assistant Program Administrator Frank Green said the project has a spending total close to $21 million through August of this year. Of the two states’ transportation departments, the Washington State Department of Transportation has spent more at about $1.8 million compared to the Oregon Department of Transportation’s roughly $600,000, but Green said that’s because WSDOT allocated funding first. He said ultimately the goal is for the funding to be split about equally between the two departments.

The bulk of the $21 million has been spent on general engineering consultants, Green said, at about $18.4 million. Of that, more than $5 million from the general engineering consultant spending has gone into communications.

“We’ve heard very clearly from all of our partners as we’ve engaged them that this program needs to prioritize equitable, inclusive and transparent community engagement,” Green said. 

Those funds were used for a variety of aspects including community working groups and listening sessions throughout the program timeline.

For the project’s current timeline, Johnson said a “refined” plan for the project is expected in the first quarter of 2022.



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