CRC releases additional bridge height analysis

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

Published:

Updated: November 8, 2012, 7:58 PM

 
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CRC navigation impact report

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Pushing the Columbia River Crossing’s bridge height up to 125 feet would mean major logistical hurdles for the project, close at least one section of street and create business access issues in downtown Vancouver, according to a new CRC analysis.

Such a change would also add as much as $171 million to the megaproject’s price tag, according to the analysis — and still not avoid impacting all current river traffic.

The report comes as CRC leaders continue to search for a solution in the ongoing flap over the project’s bridge height. Plans had long assumed 95 feet of fixed clearance — until the U.S. Coast Guard and others rejected that as too low to meet the river’s navigation and economic needs.

Public meeting

• What: Open house meeting on the Columbia River Crossing.

• When: 4 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 14.

• Where: Red Lion at the Quay, River Room, 100 Columbia St. Vancouver.

• Purpose: Discussion of possible bridge heights.

Earlier analysis by the CRC had found it could raise the bridge height to 110 feet over the water with only “modest” impacts and $36 million in added costs. But that number jumps — and jumps fast — at 115, 120 and 125 feet of clearance, according to the analysis. The report even looked at a 178-foot-high fixed span, and a low-level lift span.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has said it needs 116 feet of headroom for its dredging vessels. Thompson Metal Fab, among several manufacturing operations on the Columbia River, has asked for 125 feet of clearance to meet its current needs.

The CRC hopes to settle on a bridge height recommendation next month. But its approval ultimately hinges on the Coast Guard. The agency holds permitting authority over the bridge portion of the $3.5 billion project, which also includes light rail to Vancouver and five miles of freeway improvements.

The situation creates something of a juggling act for CRC leaders. As the bridge height goes up, restrictions on river traffic go down. But the impact to Vancouver’s urban core — and the cost — goes up.

“Everything we’re looking at is trying to balance the right solution for where we’re at,” said Kris Strickler, CRC deputy project director.

If planners have to raise the bridge deck to 120 or 125 feet, the CRC’s footprint in downtown Vancouver could look dramatically different, according to the analysis. One transit station would need to be raised by several feet, closing Fifth Street between Main and Columbia streets. An onramp from Sixth Street to southbound I-5 could be wiped out. And ramps connecting the bridge to the freeway and state Highway 14 would have to lengthen.

Steeper inclines on the freeway could also slow traffic and increase crashes, the analysis found. The structure would encroach on federal airspace, as well.

The trade-off: The number of potentially impacted river vessels drops from 53 (at 95 feet of bridge clearance) to nine (at 120 feet). At 125 feet, the number drops to eight — including five existing vessels and three “anticipated” vessels.

Downtown impacts are less severe from a 115-foot bridge, according to the analysis, likely not requiring any street or ramp closures. But even that level would add another $91 million to the project cost. The 120-foot level could cost up to $176 million more — slightly more than 125 feet due to longer approaches from less steep grades, Strickler said.

CRC spokeswoman Anne Pressentin said project officials have worked closely with river users and the Coast Guard as they evaluate various bridge heights. While she characterized this week’s analysis as final, “the process is not,” Pressentin said.

“We are looking to gather more information,” she said.

Ultimately, the Washington and Oregon departments of transportation will make the call on a recommended bridge height, with the input of other state leaders and stakeholders, Strickler said.

CRC officials expect to submit a bridge permit application to the Coast Guard by early next year, Strickler said. But any extra costs are likely to give pause to already skeptical lawmakers expected to come up with state funding for the project soon. On Thursday, a group of Southwest Washington Republicans called for a “new direction” on the CRC’s design and process.

Eric Florip: 360-735-4541; http://twitter.com/col_enviro; eric.florip@columbian.com.