New I-5 bridge will block view from Vancouver waterfront buildings, developer says

By Erik Robinson, Columbian staff writer

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The developer of a major Vancouver waterfront project is raising concern that a new Interstate 5 bridge will screen views of Mount Hood to the east.

“One of the big attributes it’s got is the view of the mountain,” Barry Cain, manager of the Columbia Waterfront company, said Friday.

Cain said in a letter to the Columbia River Crossing project office that the curved alignment of the new span will put it much closer to the riverfront development than the current I-5 bridge. It will also be significantly taller, he wrote.

“We are very concerned about this massing in relation to the viewshed when looking toward the east at Mount Hood,” he wrote in a letter to Don Wagner, the CRC’s Washington co-director.

Clark County Commissioner Steve Stuart highlighted the letter during a meeting of the CRC’s Project Sponsors Council on Friday in Vancouver.

Local officials see the waterfront development as the capstone of a decade-long effort to revitalize downtown Vancouver.

The waterfront project anticipates more than $1 billion worth of restaurants, retail, office and living space on the 32-acre former Boise Cascade industrial site.

“It’s a huge opportunity, and we get one shot,” Stuart said.

Stuart, along with Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt, signaled discomfort with the current design of the river crossing, which will enter Vancouver at roughly the height of an eight-story building. Stuart called it “a monolith being built on our side of the river.”

The bridge will be about 30 feet thick, with traffic on top and light rail in a box below, and at least 95 feet off the river surface.

“The bridge will essentially block eastern views of Mount Hood from at least nine approved blocks fronting the river,” Cain wrote in the letter to Wagner. “Approximately 3 to 5 floors of each building will not be able to view Mount Hood under the current bridge proposal.”

Cain, president of Gramor in Tualatin, Ore., noted that he does support a replacement for the existing three-lane drawbridges across the river.

“In the long term the new bridge will be a benefit to us all,” Cain wrote.

Cain raised his concerns as the project office moves toward final design of the 10-lane river crossing. The $3.6 billion project includes the new bridge, along with five miles of freeway improvements and the extension of Portland’s light-rail transit system into Vancouver.

Wagner said criticism is to be expected now that the bridge is moving past 15 years of abstract planning to an actual concrete-and-steel structure. Construction could start as soon as 2013, he said.

“They’re getting concerned that we’re actually building something here,” he said.

The Washington and Oregon transportation departments have commissioned a Bridge Expert Review Panel to review the open-web stacked design of the current bridge proposal. Bridge experts have questioned the durability, expense and appearance of the current design. The panel’s chairman, Tom Warne, indicated the group will deliver recommendations in a final report by the end of January.

Erik Robinson: 360-735-4551, or erik.robinson@columbian.com.