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News / Clark County News

Criticism of bridge design hasn’t let up

By Eric Florip, Columbian Transportation & Environment Reporter
Published: January 14, 2012, 4:00pm

As serious questions continue to follow the Columbia River Crossing, project leaders continue to push ahead, defending their progress against high-profile critics.

Among the most vocal has been bridge architect Kevin Peterson. Since 2010, the Friday Harbor resident has advocated for an upstream alignment of the new bridge, using a “collector-distributor” design to ease the strain of several interchanges and ramps crammed into a small stretch. Peterson’s design would set those exits apart on a separate lower deck. Pass-through freeway traffic would flow above unaffected, he said.

CRC plans put a new Interstate 5 bridge downstream, or west, of the

existing span. The more than $3 billion project would also extend light rail into downtown Vancouver and rebuild the freeway in both Washington and Oregon.

Peterson has said his upstream design would save money, property and lives by straightening out the S-curve that Interstate 5 now follows on the Washington side of the Columbia River. But project officials have said the idea simply isn’t feasible.

In a letter to Peterson last month, the heads of both the Washington and Oregon departments of transportation reiterated that stance.

“Your concepts have been thoroughly considered in the course of the project’s alternatives analysis and reviewed specifically by both project engineers and independent industry experts,” it read. The Dec. 9 letter was co-signed by Paula Hammond, Washington’s secretary of transportation, and Matthew Garrett, director of the Oregon Department of Transportation.

Peterson fired back a few days later, offering a point-by-point rebuttal of the letter. He challenged project officials — as he has repeatedly — to offer documentation of any formal review of his collector-distributor idea.

CRC spokeswoman Anne Pressentin pointed to a February 2011 report by the Bridge Review Panel. The 16-member group concluded that putting a new I-5 bridge farther upstream would present significant construction challenges, potentially prolonging the project and actually adding to its cost. Potential impacts to Vancouver’s historic areas east of I-5 — including Pearson Field and Fort Vancouver — would further complicate that option, the review panel said.

Issue of interchanges

The panel, however, was kept to a fairly narrow focus, zeroing in on the bridge itself and less on broader project impacts, said Tom Warne, an owner of Utah consulting firm Tom Warne & Associates, who chaired the group. But the panel did have significant concerns about parts of the CRC design that weren’t changed — specifically, the several interchanges still crowded into the project area.

“In fact, the panel is struck by the fact that most states are working to remove congested interchanges and ramps rather than building their way toward such a condition: as is occurring here,” the panel wrote in its report.

Warne said much the same in a separate email to Peterson.

“We noted several times that other DOTs were doing all they could to eliminate such spacing and configuration issues, while this project was perpetuating them,” Warne wrote.

Peterson first met with CRC officials in 2010, two years after local leaders picked the preferred downstream alternative. Hammond and Garrett wrote to Peterson last month that the project is “past the point of considering an upstream location.”

Peterson isn’t convinced.

“We haven’t built anything yet,” he said in an interview. “Just because you’ve concluded a flawed process does not obligate society to follow a flawed process into construction.”

Reporter Andrea Damewood contributed to this story.

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

Columbian Transportation & Environment Reporter