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June 27, 2022

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Clearance for proposed I-5 Bridge replacement echoes CRC

It would allow 116 feet, versus 178-foot maximum current span offers

By , Columbian Innovation Editor
Published:

A proposed replacement Interstate 5 Bridge would have the same clearance for marine traffic that the Columbia River Crossing project considered nearly a decade ago, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

Plans for the new bridge under review by the Coast Guard propose a 116-foot clearance for vessels, the same as the Coast Guard approved in 2013. The current twin spans provide 178 feet of clearance when their drawbridge sections are fully raised.

The new bridge would reduce clearance by 32 percent, according to the Coast Guard’s public notice signed by B.J. Harris, commander chief of Waterways Management Branch Coast Guard District 13.

The Interstate Bridge Replacement Program expects to receive an answer this year, according to Greg Johnson, program administrator.

“While the bridge design has not been determined, and the Coast Guard has the ultimate authority to permit the final height, the program assumes that 116 would be the minimum height,” Johnson wrote in an email to The Columbian.

“As part of the current effort, the IBR program has reviewed, analyzed, and updated the significant amount of previous work to inform the 116-foot navigation clearance, which matches what was permitted during CRC, referred to in the public notice. This matches the approach the program has had for other work in reviewing what has changed since the previous project ended.”

In 2013, the Columbia River Crossing program agreed to pay $86.4 million to the handful of companies upriver of the bridge to mitigate the loss of business and help finance potential relocation.

One of the biggest differences this time is the communication and cooperation from the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program team, said John Rudi, president of Thompson Metal Fab Inc., a company of about 250 workers at 3000 S.E. Hidden Way. Rudi, who was also president of the business in 2013, recalled that the CRC program tried to make deals late in the process, and administrators were challenging to work with.

The CRC program in 2013 agreed to give $49.8 million to Thompson Metal Fab, $24.8 million to Greenberry Industrial and $11.8 million to Oregon Iron Works, according to a 2013 article in The Columbian. (The money in 2013 was never given to the businesses because the CRC project died).

There were also talks about relocating the businesses to a water-accessible spot downriver, including at the Port of Vancouver, but it’s not clear if those options are still on the table or how much the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program and taxpayers will have to pay.

In 2013, the CRC project sought approval from the Coast Guard and the impacted businesses much later in the process; some of the deals with the businesses were made two months after the Washington Legislature adjourned without committing any money to the project and the project offices began shutting down, according to a 2013 article in The Columbian.

Rudi said he couldn’t comment on how much he is seeking for mitigation nor specify how many projects require more than 116 feet of clearance. Some years, Thompson will have no projects required that height, and some years, it’s a few, he said.

But in the coming years, with the offshore wind power industry picking up, there’s a big opportunity to pick up work that would require those heights to be greater than 116 feet.

“We’re supportive of the bridge,” Rudi said. “We recognize that the community and region need a new bridge. It’s important to recognize the touch-downs of the bridge and mass transit. We have rights, as well. My interests are preserving jobs and this business. We’re working with (the IBR) to make sure that we’re all cooperating.”

The clearance for maritime traffic is largely determined by the slope of the freeway and the touch-down spots of the bridge, which determine where traffic and mass transit will first enter downtown Vancouver. It’s also influenced by Federal Aviation Administration rules on possible interference with flights from Portland International Airport and Pearson Field.

The Coast Guard posted a public notice of the plans on Wednesday and is asking for mariners and maritime stakeholders to email their comments to D13-SMB-D13-BRIDGES@USCG.MIL, or mailed to Commander (dpw), 13th Coast Guard District, 915 Second Ave., Rm 3510, Seattle, WA 98174 by April 25.

The Interstate Bridge Replacement Program is seeking a preliminary navigation clearance determination, which is the first step in the permitting process.  It “defines the bridge clearances which have been evaluated and determined to have a high likelihood of being approved by the Coast Guard and to help the applicant refine development of alternatives for a proposed bridge,” according to a news release from the Coast Guard. The IBR anticipates submitting an application for the final permit in the 2024 timeframe.

“We anticipate receiving the preliminary navigation clearance by the Coast Guard this year, which is the next step in the process,” Johnson wrote in an email. “If any impacts are determined through the Coast Guard’s public notification process, the program would begin discussions with those river users about avoiding, minimizing, or mitigating impacts, if needed.”

This story was updated to state to clarify the preliminary navigation clearance determination.

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