Missed out on I-5 bridge plan

August 14, 2013 

Columbia River Bridge

The Interstate 5 bridge spans the Columbia River between Oregon and Washington. Project planners are shutting down the offices that spent up to $175 million planning to replace the bridge. (AP Photo/Don Ryan, file 2011)

DON RYAN — AP

When the northbound span of the Columbia River Crossing from Portland to Vancouver was built in 1917, Woodrow Wilson was president. When the newer southbound span was built in 1958, Elvis Presley had just been inducted into the Army. Whether it’s a century or a half-century old, engineers have declared both spans to be functionally obsolete.

Nearly 10 years and about $170 million worth of planning to replace the bridge – and avoid a potential catastrophic accident – appeared dead early this summer when the state Senate refused to put up Washington’s share of the bridge replacement cost, killing a key $850 million grant from the federal government.

It was a negative economic blow to a region where traffic congestion impedes progress and job development.

But a group of 80 Clark County business owners and citizens have revived the movement to replace the Interstate 5 crossing, used daily by more than 124,000 vehicles.

In a letter to Gov. Jay Inslee and Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber late last week, this group proposes to replace the bridge, add light rail and improve I-5 intersections on the Oregon side. That scales the project back by about $750 million.

All roadway and interchange improvements on the Washington side would wait until the state Legislature approves funding. That might not take so long, considering the new design uses tolls for financing, presumably to be paid mostly by the estimated 60,000 workers commuting to Oregon.

It’s a clever plan containing most of the important elements of a safe and more efficient crossing, and it satisfies Oregon’s transportation needs. That may grate on those who opposed the design rebuffed this year by the state Senate.

We suspect that the lack of improvements on the Washington side will grate on commuters even more, serving as a constant reminder it only takes a handful of shortsighted politicians to ruin a smart thing.

If Washington doesn’t want to pay, it doesn’t get to play, which should suit the bridge detractors just fine.

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