The final two groups to endorse the early Interstate 5 Bridge plans voted to advance the process Thursday. It was a major win for the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program that will move the plans, called the modified locally preferred alternative, into the environmental testing phase.
The two groups that voted, the Regional Transportation Council and Oregon Metro Council, showed a vast difference in issues with the bridge. The Metro Council’s concerns mostly aligned with climate change and equity, and the Regional Transportation Councils’ concerns were with light rail.
Each group has its own conditions of approval that the program will address in the coming months. With the endorsements, the path is clear for the program to apply for federal funding for the project, which is currently underway.
“Coming on top of the endorsements of our other program partners this week, it is, once again, a strong demonstration of the collaboration and cooperation that is driving the IBR program forward,” said Greg Johnson, the program’s administrator.
Regional Transportation Council
The Regional Transportation Council voted 10-3 with one abstention to endorse the modified locally preferred alternative. The three opponents of the plans, Gary Medvigy, Leslie Lewallen and Karen Bowerman, were the most vocal opponents of light rail.
The three, and also Tom Lannen, who later voted in favor of endorsing the plans, attempted to remove any mention of light rail in the plans’ documents because Clark County voters have been against being taxed for light rail in the past.
“I don’t think the voters here in Clark County want light rail, and I want to express that I hope that some consideration is given to the desires of the voters that they’re not getting and paying for a bridge that they don’t want,” Medvigy said.
The Regional Transportation Council manages the property and business affairs of the Clark County area and beyond to adopt a regional transportation plan, select and allocate grants as directed by federal and state law, among other responsibilities. The board consists of 15 members from across the various governments, agencies and interest groups.
Oregon Metro Council
The Oregon Metro Council voted 6-1 to endorse the modified locally preferred alternative after hearing more than 10 people testifying against the project due to climate change, funding and other issues.
Metro Council’s Mary Nolan was the only one who voted against the bridge plans moving forward because of environmental and financial concerns.
“For too long… we have sat on our hands and said that that river is a dividing line,” Counselor Christine Lewis said. “And we’ve got to get beyond that because our economy won’t progress. Our equity and climate goals can’t progress unless we figure out what Vancouver means to Portland and what Portland means to Vancouver.”
The group saw 20 people testify about the bridge replacement — nine more than at Portland’s City Council meeting — many voicing their concern around its environmental impact, funding, budget and the choice of a high bridge.
“If you were given $5 billion to create a project that would address seismic, climate and economic concerns, is this really the project you would end up with?” said Adah Crandall, a leader of Portland Youth Climate Strike.
Oregon Metro collaborates with businesses, communities and residents in the Portland metro area to manage growth, infrastructure and development issues that cross jurisdictional boundaries.
Although all eight partner agencies voted to endorse the modified locally preferred alternative, most of the final design has yet to be decided. The width, length, height, type of bridge and if it will be side-by-side or stacked is still being worked out.
“We’re still at the conceptual phase of design. The bridge is at 2 percent design,” said Margi Bradway, deputy director of planning, development and research at Metro.
The final design is scheduled for mid-2025, with construction beginning by the end of 2025. Construction is expected to take five to seven years to complete.
Over the next year and a half, the project will be conducting an environmental evaluation and design refinements. It will produce a supplemental environmental impact statement, tolling and revenue study, financial analysis, while soliciting public involvement and holding a 45-day comment period.
“We will take approximately a year and a half to dig in, to do more design details, to test all of the things in the locally preferred alternative and assure ourselves that they will take this bridge out into the future and still perform,” Johnson said.
The Interstate Bridge Replacement Program will not be starting from scratch, however. They will build off the environmental impact statement that was developed during the failed Columbia River Crossing project, examining everything that has changed to the project area over the past decade.
“It’s a very prescriptive process,” Johnson said. “It’s a federally owned process, we have to have public hearings, we will have public meetings surrounding it. It will be a very intense time.”
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