Oregon’s Metro Council approved $36 million in Oregon state funding for the planning and design of the Interstate 5 Bridge replacement Thursday. The vote was not unanimous, with Metro Councilor Mary Nolan opposing it.
“We do need a new bridge, and we need a bridge that serves the next hundred years of our region’s and our state’s goals,” said Metro Councilor Juan Carlos Gonzalez, adding he supported the resolution because he thinks that bridge is possible.
Each of the councilors expressed hesitation and had questions about the project.
“The position I find myself in is seeing a flawed process but opportunity on the horizon,” said Metro Councilor Christine Lewis. “What we are funding is study and work, and I hope that people work really hard toward answering the questions we’re asking.”
While they approved the funding, council members expressed concerns during the meeting that their fears and goals for the project might be overlooked. A particular concern was on the size of the bridge.
“We are at a point in our world that we can no longer accommodate all the cars that exist — and particularly the emissions that they create,” said Shirley Craddick, one of the Metro councilors.
“You’re going to get data back that says we’re going to need a bigger bridge, but we can no longer accommodate that and have a healthy world and maybe even a world at all,” said Craddick. The size of the bridge is planned to be based upon traffic models.
“We cannot build a bridge that is small and re-creates the conditions that are out there now,” said Greg Johnson, program administrator for the Interstate Bridge Replacement Project. “That will not solve the greenhouse gas production issues, so we need to make sure that it is right-sized for today’s conditions and conditions going into the future.
“The best way to do that is to have a robust, multimodal corridor where people can make choices.”
Because of their concerns, the council approved a values, outcomes and actions document for the bridge replacement project. The vote makes the council’s support for the project contingent on it showing a commitment to the goals set out in the document. Those goals include advancing racial equity, resiliency and economic prosperity, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving air quality and engaging stakeholders through a transparent and inclusionary decision-making process. Each of these categories was broken down into other specific goals.
The document requires the bistate Interstate Bridge Replacement Project office to have results on Metro’s requested actions by May 10, before the body will need to approve plans for a new modified locally preferred alternative for the bridge.
“This is something that wasn’t done last time and sets a higher bar for how we proceed as a region and with our partners,” said Lynn Peterson, president of the Metro Council.
“Many of the things that you are asking, we already are on top of and taking care of. There are some things that we will need to dive into deeper to make sure we are meeting the needs that the council has expressed,” Johnson said.
The bistate office aims to have each of its partner groups approve plans for the new bridge in June in order to present the plans to both state legislatures and receive state matching funds to accompany federal funding.
The Interstate Bridge Replacement Project will be seeking federal, state and local funding to move the project to completion. Metro is one of eight partner agencies that are part of the project. The Washington State Department of Transportation is committing $35 million for funding of the planning phase.
It’s been nearly a decade since the last attempt at replacing the 100-year-old Interstate 5 Bridge failed after Washington’s Legislature refused to provide its share of the funding.
The Interstate Bridge Replacement Project released a video in November showing how the current bridge would fare against a large earthquake. The result seen in the video was a near total collapse that would take years to rebuild.
While the project leaders have sought input from the public via various public meetings as well as equity and community advisory groups, the project has drawn criticism from climate activists who fear the bridge’s expansion will create more traffic and therefore more pollution. Teen climate leaders from No More Freeways PDX protested the pending Metro vote outside of the Oregon Metro building on Wednesday.
Numerous bridge options are being considered, including two smaller bridges going in each direction of traffic and a single bridge with stacked decks meant to decrease the bridge’s footprint. Multiple alternative transit options to be incorporated into the bridge plans are also being considered, including light rail, bus rapid transit and bus-on-shoulder options.