Construction plans for a new I-5 bridge on the Columbia River connecting Vancouver, Washington and Portland, Oregon are back on the table, six years after Washington abandoned the idea.
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The bridge cannot handle the 135,000 vehicles per day that use it now. The original span was built in 1917. The second was added in 1958.
Both have yet to open for ships on the Columbia River. It no longer meets the needs of commuters or goods that have to move between Washington and Oregon.
“We believe this bridge is important to the economies of not just two counties, but two states,” said Washington Gov. Jay Inslee. “It is an absolute artery to the economies and the life of all of the states of Oregon and Washington.
For a little history lesson, a replacement bridge was proposed and secured federal funding in 2011, but the plans were scuttled by lawmakers in Washington, who did not want a streetcar on the new span. There was also concern that putting trains on a bridge high enough to avoid sea traffic would not be safe.
After that, the $ 200 million invested has just been washed away, just like the federal dollars promised.
Governor Inslee has no idea how much it will cost to replace the bridge. It would have cost more than $ 3 billion in 2011, but Inslee said there was no choice but to replace it.
“The first order of business is to have a bridge that is not going to fall tomorrow,” he said.
The bridge is considered safe, but it needs a seismic upgrade.
Oregon Governor Kate Brown has agreed that this bridge has served its purpose, but it is time for it to go.
“We have to invest in the foundation of the economies of our states, and that is infrastructure,” she said.
The only condition set in the documents signed by the two governors on Monday is that the new bridge must have a high transit capacity. Governor Inslee said that didn’t mean light rail, but that it would be his first option.
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“We are not setting high capacity system type prerequisites,” he said. “We’re going to be driven by the data, it’s going to be a very in-depth analysis of the alternatives, and we’ll have a vigorous discussion in our ridings to see what their thoughts are.”
While most commuters in southwest Washington and northwest Oregon want congestion relief, the priorities of the two governors place congestion reduction last on their lists.
“The number one priority has to be seismic resilience for this particular project,” Governor Brown said. “Second, for me it would include high capacity transit. Hopefully this would lead us to reduce congestion. “
It is expected that there will be a brawl over what the high capacity transit will be. There are also potential plans to toll the new I-5 bridge, but Inslee said there has been no decision on that. Tolls would be more of the time-of-day-based congestion pricing model, according to earlier versions.
Inslee hopes the federal funding will go a long way to fund this project.
A final report on what the bridge will look like is expected in approximately 13 months.