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News / Business / Clark County Business

I-5 bridge environmental impact statement delayed, again — this time until 2024

Administrator: ‘We’re still on time and on schedule at this point’

By William Seekamp, Columbian staff writer
Published: October 7, 2023, 6:10am

The release of a draft supplemental environmental impact statement, a critical milestone for the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program, has been delayed for the second time, this time from the end of 2023 until the start of 2024.

Program Administrator Greg Johnson said he does not think it will delay the program’s goal of breaking ground by late 2025 or early 2026.

“This is not unexpected,” he said. “That’s why we have float built into our schedule. We’re still on time and on schedule at this point. Now, we do not want to let this slip a whole lot further into 2024 because then it will start causing problems on our schedule.”

The delay stemmed from the back-and-forth with the program’s federal partners and ensuring that the environmental documents meet everything the federal partners need.

“This is an iterative process, and sometimes those things take several iterations to make sure we have answered all of their questions and concerns,” Johnson said. “This is more of the internal wheels grinding as opposed to one big thing that pushed it forward.”

The draft supplemental environmental impact statement studies the benefits and impacts of the proposed bridge plan, including on the environment and affected properties.

It builds off the work done during the Columbia River Crossing, the bridge-replacement effort that failed in 2014 in the face of political infighting. The Interstate Bridge Replacement Program is looking at what has changed since then — hence the “supplemental.”

After the eight local partners — the cities of Vancouver and Portland, C-Tran, TriMet, the ports of Portland and Vancouver, the Regional Transportation Council, and Metro — approved the tentative bridge plan in July 2022, the goal was to publish the draft supplemental environmental impact statement this summer.

The document was pushed back until late 2023 after the Coast Guard and federal government requested that the program study a river crossing that does not impede river navigation, like a drawbridge, in March.

It made “us charge forward with work that we hadn’t really done a lot of yet,” said Frank Green, assistant program administrator. “We had to move forward with the engineering of a movable span, with the design of it, (in order) to truly understand what it would be, more than just from a conceptual perspective.”

Windows of opportunity

The replacement project’s price tag is estimated between $5 billion and $7.5 billion, with the likeliest outcome being about $6 billion. Johnson believes that staying on schedule is the best thing program officials can do to prevent that cost from ballooning.

There are laws governing when work can be done in the Columbia River. The projected window for the bridge replacement is mid-September through February. If it is missed, it will be another year before construction on the bridge can begin.

“A lot of the permanent work isn’t restricted to that window, necessarily,” Green said. “Once you have the temporary works out there and the equipment on the river, a lot of the other work we can do without affecting the fish and the species that are in the river.”

It will likely take three in-water work periods to complete the bridge, in part because the replacement program will have to coordinate with the Coast Guard and the Army Corps of Engineers to maintain shipping channels, Green said.

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This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.

Columbian staff writer