Replacing the Interstate 5 Bridge spanning the Columbia River between Vancouver and Portland has been my priority since entering the state Senate in 2013.
At that time, the Legislature was primed to pass a project 15 years in the planning, one that was certain to energize and transform our region. That project would have replaced our long-outmoded I-5 spans with a modern bridge, improving safety, reducing the number of hours of traffic congestion per day and vastly improving pedestrian, bike and transit options that help reduce climate impacts.
At the 11th hour, however, the legislation did not advance — a move that not only killed the project but damaged relationships with our project partners, including Oregon and up and down the economically critical I-5 corridor. Rebuilding trust has been an important aspect of the work to move forward.
That effort began with myself and a small group of Southwest Washington lawmakers committed to a fresh effort to address the shortcomings of the old spans. In 2017 the Legislature passed my bill to create a bistate committee of Washington and Oregon state lawmakers to explore bridge options. Our Oregon colleagues joined us to begin this bistate work again in earnest.
Since then, we’ve worked together to plan the bridge our region deserves. My commitment to the partners involved in this effort, here at home, in Oregon, the state and federal governments, and my colleagues on both sides of the aisle in approaching this monumental task has been to a collaborative process. We are making sure all voices are heard, and all perspectives respected in order to reach consensus.
A key early step was to recommit to designation as a project of statewide significance, so that everyone understood that the transportation and economic benefits of replacing the I-5 Bridge would extend from Canada to Washington to Oregon to California.
Another forward step was to fund an office to facilitate the planning of a replacement bridge. All research, studies and designs that had gone into the prior effort were reviewed to avoid reproducing work that could be applied to the new bridge plan.
At every step of the way we insisted on an open, inclusive process to develop a plan with strong enough consensus to withstand 11th-hour opposition. No one wants to see millions of tax dollars invested in a bridge project go down the drain again.
Our investments, and commitment to this project, are significant. Move Ahead Washington, the transportation revenue package passed by the Senate, will provide $1.2 billion toward a replacement bridge. Oregon will also provide funding toward this project, and the federal government is expected to contribute federal funding through President Joe Biden’s nationwide infrastructure plan.
There are those who have questioned whether we truly can afford the cost of replacing the bridge. But the bigger question is whether we can afford not to replace the bridge. And that question is answered daily by thousands of commuters and freight haulers idled by the drawbridge or stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic jams. It’s answered by the knowledge that our existing spans weren’t designed to withstand a major earthquake — and the fear that such a quake might come before we have a new, safer bridge in place.
Last month, the first span of the existing I-5 Bridge marked its 105th anniversary since opening. The need to replace the bridge has never been more critical, and our options for designing a bridge that can meet our current and future needs have never been better.
It’s time to Move Ahead Washington.
Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, has represented Washington’s 49th Legislative District since 2013.