Several clichés come to mind as work continues toward a replacement Interstate 5 Bridge. One is “we’ve seen this movie before.” Another is “too many cooks spoil the broth.” And then there is the classic “you can’t always get what you want.”
As detailed in a story by Columbian reporter William Seekamp, various stakeholder groups with differing priorities are seeking to have a say in the design of a potential replacement. This is unavoidable, considering that the bridge involves the governments of two states and two cities, along with two transportation agencies and Oregon’s Metro regional government.
As we have seen before — nearly a decade ago with the Columbia River Crossing proposal — it is nigh impossible to balance the priorities of all the organizations that are stirring the pot. That project was killed when Southwest Washington Republicans led a fight to deny funding from the Legislature.
This time around, the state has committed money for an eventual project, but preventing another last-minute collapse will require a deft balancing act; the goals stated by various power brokers often seem to conflict.
In one example, The Columbian explains: “Many Oregonians want a bicycle-friendly bridge with as small a footprint as possible. The freight community wants one or two auxiliary lanes or a freight-only corridor on the bridge.”
“We all have the same goals, actually,” Metro Councilor Shirley Craddick said. “We want to be able to go from one side to the other relatively easily, we want to be able to access our downtowns, we want to be able to have a choice in how we get around. I think there’s a lot we have in common.”
That Pollyannaish view must be the focus as plans move forward. There is, indeed, much room for agreement.
Improving commute times should be a top priority; that, after all, is the purpose of a bridge. Another priority must be providing reliable and timely access for freight to and from the ports in Vancouver and Portland — major conduits for the West Coast economy.
It is tempting to view the bureaucracy involved as an example of paralysis by analysis, to think that with so many stakeholders it’s impossible to make progress.
Ensuring that all voices are heard is, indeed, an important part of a transformational infrastructure project, as demonstrated by the history of Interstate 5 in North Portland. During the 1960s, the freeway was carved through the Albina district, devastating Portland’s historically Black neighborhood with little input from residents.
But as the voices of various entities are heard regarding a new Interstate 5 Bridge, the people sharing those voices also must be willing to listen. With differing views about the importance of diversity and equity, light rail and commerce, commute times and footprints, no group is going to wind up with a bridge that caters to all of its concerns. Compromise is necessary, for residents in both states and transit agencies in both states and lawmakers in both states.
The important things, again, are that we improve commute times and the transport of freight between Washington and Oregon. Building a bridge that will serve us well in 50 or 75 or 100 years might or might not include bicycle access, but it definitely will require that we are able to move widgets from the local ports to consumers throughout the country.
The bottom line: You can’t always get what you want, but you just might get some satisfaction in a new bridge.