Rejected bridge design not a huge part of project cost

Almost 99% of expenditures can still be useful

By Andrea Damewood, Columbian staff writer


photoCharging cars and trucks to use a new Interstate 5 bridge was expected to provide about one-third of total project costs, or about $1.3 billion. But a new report says tolling could bring as much as $598 million less than originally projected.


CRC expenditure summary, 2005 to May 31, 2011

• Engineering: $57.2 million

• Environmental study and reports: $20.6 million

• Project management, controls, reporting and quality assurance: $17.0 million

• Transit planning and preliminary design: $14.6 million

• Public involvement and communications: $8.5 million

• Agency partners and tribes: $5.3 million

• Finance study and reports: $4.5 million

Total planning costs: $127.7 million

Source: Columbia River Crossing

The Columbia River Crossing project proposes to replace the existing drawbridges with 10 lanes over the river, improve Interstate 5 and extend Portland’s light-rail system into downtown Vancouver. See a project timeline, previous stories and links at

The initial plan by the Columbia River Crossing to pursue a largely untested and potentially costly bridge design — one that was rejected by Washington and Oregon leaders this year — was a misstep, but not as costly a sidetrack as many might think.

Of the $127.7 million spent as of May 31 on engineering, environmental and other planning costs, crossing data show that just $1.53 million was spent on preliminary designs for an open-web box girder bridge that now cannot be used.

The rest of the planning — including costly geotechnical, drilling and foundation work — still applies to the flat, composite deck-truss style of bridge selected by the governors.

CRC Directory Nancy Boyd said this week that the composite bridge and the open-web bridge have the same alignment along Interstate 5, and the support pillars will be placed in the same spots.

“It was much lower than I thought it would be, too,” Boyd said. “We can use (the plans) on this other design. That’s one of the factors that went into choosing it.”

The figure comes as the result of a public records request by The Columbian, and counters a claim in a recent article by Portland’s Willamette Week that “much of (the planning money) was wasted chasing” the open-web box design.

Another reason the cost was low is that the project is still in very early architectural design phases, Boyd said. The bridge and highway are at about 15 percent design, so serious cash wasn’t infused into specific designs for the open-web box bridge. Of the money spent on design specific to an open-web bridge, $1.12 million went to HDR Inc., a sprawling, worldwide architecture, engineering and consulting firm with offices in Portland.

Portland economist and vocal CRC critic Joe Cortright pointed out this week that the project is running upwards of $1 million a month in salaries and consultant fees, and so any delays associated with switching bridge designs should be incorporated to the $1.53 million figure.

Boyd said Friday that there weren’t any real delays associated with the change.

“Folks that were working on that bridge design just stood down,” as the crossing waited for the results of an independent bridge review panel to finish its analysis. “The project wasn’t delayed due to that.”

The bridge is just one aspect of the $3.6 billion project, which includes seven interchange improvements over five miles of Interstate 5 and the extension of Portland’s light-rail line into downtown Vancouver.

She said much work was done on highway and transit design, and other elements not specifically related to a bridge type. She called the independent review part of a “process to make sure your next step is the right one.”

The open-web design was derided by critics as an “elevated parking garage.”

Plans included automobile decks on top, with a pedestrian and bicycle path on the lower deck of one bridge and light rail running on the lower deck of the other span. The open web would enable pedestrians and riders to peer out across the river rather than being confined inside a segmental box.

While not the most visually appealing option, the composite truss bridge will be up to $100 million cheaper than the open-web box, an independent bridge review panel said in February.

The composite deck-truss design looks not unlike the Glenn L. Jackson Memorial Bridge on Interstate 205, and wasn’t the top choice of local officials in Vancouver or Oregon, who favored a more aesthetically pleasing cable-stay bridge. The composite truss will have twin spans for northbound and southbound cars and trucks. The southbound span would carry light rail on a lower deck; the northbound bridge would carry a pedestrian and bicycle path below the traffic deck.

However, in announcing their selection of the composite deck-truss bridge in April, the governors said the simpler design will help the project stay on time and on budget.

Andrea Damewood: 360-735-4542,, or