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Tuesday, February 27, 2024
Feb. 27, 2024

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State commission tours I-5 Bridge, gets close-up view of span’s deficiencies

By , Columbian staff writer
5 Photos
Interstate 5 Bridge Supervisor Marc Gross, right, talks about the inner workings of the bridge during a tour Thursday during a meeting of the Washington State Transportation Commission.
Interstate 5 Bridge Supervisor Marc Gross, right, talks about the inner workings of the bridge during a tour Thursday during a meeting of the Washington State Transportation Commission. (Taylor Balkom/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

The Interstate 5 Bridge machine room shook and rattled as two semis passed below, jostling the dozen or so Washington State Transportation Commission commissioners and staff inside the room.

“Wow,” mouthed Jim Restucci, the vice chair of the commission.

“Scary,” remarked another.

The room sits above traffic on the bridge’s lift section, one on each span, and houses the motors that turn the cable drums to wind up or release cables connected to the deck, lifting or lowering the spans. A second set of cables connects the lift span to the bridge’s massive counterweights, offsetting most of its weight. (In total the cables are more than 6 miles long and could stretch to the Fremont Bridge in Portland.)

For townies, the bridge, and the resulting delays, are a fact of life. But for the commissioners and commission staff, seeing the bridge’s age and deficiencies illustrates the importance of the project.

The northbound span was built 106 years ago in 1917. Back then, the machine room served as the main control room, and the bridge tender would stay in the uninsulated, vibrating box for the entire shift (the control is now located between the two spans on the Washington side and the machine rooms are insulated).

The commission sets toll rates in Washington. Members will work jointly with the Oregon Transportation Commission to set toll rates for the I-5 Bridge and its replacement.

Based in Olympia, the commission tries to visit every region of the state each year. Last year it stopped in Battle Ground. It visited Vancouver on Thursday, receiving a tour of the bridge replacement program’s footprint and presentations from local leaders about the growth and future of the region.


If tolls are reinstated, it will be the third time travelers will need to pay to cross the 106-year-old bridge. Unlike in the past, however, tolls won’t be a relative blip lasting for a few years or a decade but could linger until the 2060s.

The replacement project is expected to cost between $5 billion and $7.5 billion with the likeliest outcome being $6 billion.

Tolling, which both states have authorized, is expected to make up $1.24 billion, in addition to $1 billion committed by both Oregon and Washington, $200 million in existing state funds and an anticipated $2.5 from the federal government.

Tolling on the current bridge is expected to start in 2026 with daytime rates of between $2.05 and $3.55 per trip being studied by the replacement program.

The final decision on the start date will be set by a bistate agreement and the rate by the Oregon and Washington transportation commissions.

Program officials anticipate that while the current I-5 Bridge is tolled, it will be toll-free between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m., in an attempt to avoid situations where drivers would pay a toll and experience a construction delay.

The replacement bridge is expected to be tolled around the clock, with program officials studying nighttime rates of between $1.50 and $2.15 per trip.

Watch the full meetings here: https://tvw.org/video/washington-state-transportation-commission-2023091003/

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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.