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News / Business / Clark County Business

I-5 Bridge project preferred alternative includes 1 auxiliary lane each way, light rail

By Shari Phiel, Columbian staff writer
Published: May 5, 2022, 11:38am

The Interstate Bridge Replacement Program announced its locally preferred alternative during Thursday’s executive steering group meeting.

Along with light rail options announced April 21, the preferred design includes one auxiliary travel lane for both the north and southbound lanes across the Interstate 5 Bridge, along with three travel lanes in each direction.

The Columbia River Crossing plan from 2013 called for 10 total travel lanes in total, or three through lanes plus two lanes to connect interchanges in each travel direction.

The preferred alternative presented Thursday also included two shoulder lanes for both the northbound and southbound spans. The shoulder lanes would be available to express buses, as well as emergency vehicles and to help clear accidents.

What has yet to be decided is whether the northbound and southbound spans will be placed side by side or stacked on top of each other. That decision won’t be made until later in the planning process.

“All of the individuals from the executive steering group said ‘Yes,’ and they’re ready to take those program recommendations to their councils or their board or their committees for discussion. That’s absolutely wonderful,” Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle said Thursday.

Three auxiliary lane options were considered: no auxiliary lanes, one lane in each direction and two lanes in each direction. According to John Willis, deputy program manager for the bridge project, having one auxiliary lane met the project’s needs and made the most financial sense.

Willis listed several benefits for the auxiliary travel lanes beyond providing access to buses.

“They’re really key to safety,” Willis said during the meeting, noting auxiliary lanes are already in use in many areas of Portland and Vancouver.

When compared with no auxiliary lanes, Willis said a single auxiliary lane can provide greater visibility and reduce sideswipe crashes. They also help reduce congestion and greenhouse gas emissions, and mean fewer lane changes are needed.

“The auxiliary lanes allow those three through lanes — both north and south — to do their job as through lanes for this regional facility,” Willis said.

They are expected to reduce travel times for morning southbound traffic between the Interstate 5/Interstate 205 split and Interstate 405 in Portland by 3 minutes and northbound evening traffic between Portland’s Broadway Avenue and Washington state Highway 500 by 11 minutes, Willis said.

Hayden Island interchange

One other key area was the Hayden Island/Marine Drive interchange in North Portland. The plan calls for a partial interchange that allows direct access to Hayden Island only for vehicles coming from or going to Washington.

Cars and trucks will be able to reach Hayden Island from Portland and points south through a full interchange at Marine Drive leading to a local access road over North Portland Harbor with an adjacent pedestrian/bike lane.

Included in the interchange design is the extension of TriMet’s MAX Yellow Line from the Expo Center, which will cross North Portland Harbor on a separate structure and along Interstate 5.

According to Willis, this design will have a smaller footprint, impact fewer floating homes and result in a smaller scale and less complex network of roads for I-5 over Hayden Island.

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is important to the city of Vancouver, which set a climate target of net zero by 2040. McEnerny-Ogle said the bridge replacement project will play a key role in meeting that target.

“We’re going to be ensuring that the program centers on climate and equity. Those are two of our major needs as we’re moving forward. We know that if that doesn’t happen, that we have failed,” McEnerny-Ogle said.

Light rail extension

Extending light rail from the Portland Expo Center across the I-5 Bridge won’t come without controversy. Community surveys conducted in 2021 revealed widespread support for light rail, although support was higher among Portland metro residents than Clark County residents.

The preferred alternative would extend light rail from the Portland Expo Center north to a new station on Hayden Island, then continue across the Columbia River on the new I-5 Bridge. The light rail line would follow I-5 to a stop at Columbia Street and end at Evergreen Boulevard in downtown Vancouver.

“Many people will just focus on light rail. But it’s not just light rail. That’s one of a system and the whole system is based on what C-Tran already has in place and is building,” McEnerny-Ogle said.

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She said while the new bridge will have increased capacity, it’s not the only work the city is doing to expand transit access. She said C-Tran already has The Vine bus rapid transit system operating on Fourth Plain Boulevard, is building another Vine route on Mill Plain Boulevard and working toward a third line heading up Highway 99.

“We’ll have our third north-south BRT before there’s even a shovel in the dirt. We’re bringing another option to Vancouver,” McEnerny-Ogle said.

Although it wasn’t included in the discussions, the preferred alternative was developed with the assumption that variable rate tolling would be in place, along with a recommendation to the Oregon and Washington State Transportation Commission to consider a low-income toll program that includes exemptions and discounts.

McEnerny-Ogle said further studies on this will be coming.

Having the preferred alternative in place is only the first step among many for the project group to tackle. Willis said having the preferred alternative in place puts the project at about 2 percent complete.

The proposed modified locally preferred alternative will be discussed by the program’s eight partner agencies — including the city of Vancouver, C-Tran, the Port of Vancouver and the Southwest Washington Regional Transportation Council — with the goal of receiving approval in July.

Adopting the modified locally preferred alternative does not constitute final approval of the project but signals that the stakeholders are ready to move on to the next phase of the project.

If design and environmental review work moves ahead on schedule, construction could begin by late 2025.