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News / Politics / Clark County Politics

Vancouver council steps up timeline for I-5 Bridge planning

Vancouver council, bridge panel to discuss design alternatives

By Lauren Ellenbecker, Columbian staff writer
Published: January 25, 2022, 4:21pm

Discussions between the Vancouver City Council and Interstate 5 Bridge Replacement Program staff are soon to be underway as they assess design alternatives before summer — a major step in the multiyear bridge project.

A council workshop on Monday was the first in a series intended to continue through June, when a preferred “modified-locally preferred alternative” for the program will likely be selected. The last discussions with the city council and staff were in June and July. They focused on Vancouver’s desired outcomes for the I-5 Bridge replacement.

Initial design options for the I-5 Bridge were posted in December with a request for community feedback. Surveys and input from other councils, boards and commissions will be used to create the final draft.

Workshops through June will promote conversations over design options between project planners and the community.

Bridge project dates

April 11:  Council will provide direction on draft modified-locally preferred alternative.

June 6:Council will provide feedback on the draft resolution.

June 27: Council will approve a resolution endorsing a project direction.

Additional analysis through mid-2024 on the locally preferred alternative will be used to draft a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for the project, with designs finalized in mid-2024 and construction estimated to begin in 2025.

The approach

Katherine Kelly, city senior policy adviser, said increased traffic congestion, inadequate foot traffic resources, limited public transportation, compromised freight movement, safety issues and seismic weaknesses are the main project focuses. Bridge designs also must meet state and local climate and equity standards, she said.

Project staff are designing the bridge to reduce potential greenhouse gas emissions, minimize carbon output during construction and bolster the structure to withstand climate disruptions. The bridge replacement has received criticism from environmental activists who assert it will create more traffic and, subsequently, more pollution.

There will be a continued discussion with project leaders and the public regarding maintaining equity. Specifically, the project’s process equity focuses on decision-making power for underserved and marginalized communities, Kelly said.

“(We need to track) these other efforts that are taking place and thinking about our residents of the city of Vancouver — how holistically they would be impacted,” Councilor Diana Perez said.

There are two options for the river crossing: use two bridges or one. Through the two-bridge approach, there would be one bridge each for southbound and northbound traffic. A one-bridge option would have a slightly narrower footprint than the former option, as traffic would be layered in double-decker fashion. Regardless of which option is favored, it will alter transportation routes and pedestrian pathways, Kelly said.

Project plans will also consider whether to replace the North Portland Harbor Bridge and an agreement regarding a tolling program to help pay the project’s estimated $4.8 billion price. Tolling is expected to contribute approximately $1.3 billion to the overall number.

Staff are looking at a range of tolling rates to create a model that will be presented to Oregon and Washington transportation commissions and tested in different scenarios. In early 2024 through spring 2025, the state commissions will determine toll rates. If approved by the Washington and Oregon legislatures, the earliest the bridge tolling would begin would be 2025.

Exemptions and discounts for buses, emergency vehicles and low-income travelers will be considered.

Columbian staff writer