Let’s compare the bloated Columbia River Crossing I-5 replacement bridge with the award-winning I-35W bridge in Minneapolis. In August 2007, this critical bridge across the Mississippi River collapsed. I was on it a few days earlier. Returning the next summer, I was amazed that the new bridge was nearly complete. It opened in September 2008 at a cost of $234 million. In comparison, the CRC has spent seven years and nearly $150 million just to draw up plans. Costs are estimated at $3.6 billion, before overruns and financing.
I-35W expanded to five lanes each way, while CRC plans just three through lanes each direction, the same as the current bridge. I-35W includes wide shoulders for future needs, such as additional lanes, bus rapid transit, or light rail. CRC is committed to light rail, which drives one third of the cost, while serving about 2.5 percent of commuters.
In light of recent revelations that the bridge is too low, consideration of alternatives is necessary. Well-known bridge designer Kevin Peterson has proposed a lower-cost bridge with fewer negative environmental impacts. Clark County doesn’t have the population density to require light rail now, or in the foreseeable future. It’s a luxury for a few that we cannot afford.