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News / Clark County News

Key Interstate 5 Bridge document delayed again, but replacement work could still start in 2026

Draft supplemental environmental impact statement is prerequisite for work to begin

By William Seekamp, Columbian staff writer
Published: April 5, 2024, 5:25pm

The release of a draft supplemental environmental impact statement, a critical milestone for the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program, has been delayed from this spring to sometime later this year.

“With technical review still underway, we no longer expect that time frame to be feasible and are working with our federal partners to identify the anticipated timing of the publication later this year,” the replacement program office said in a statement.

The document’s release is a prerequisite for construction to begin.

Originally intended to be released last summer, the document’s release has been pushed back a handful of times.

The first setback came after the U.S. Coast Guard and federal government requested the program study a crossing that does not impede river navigation — such as a lift span. The draft statement was pushed back to late 2023.

In the fall, program officials announced the document’s release would be delayed until early 2024. Officials cited the back-and-forth with the federal government as the cause of the delay. Then, the release date was pushed to this spring.

“I’d love to give you an exact date but that is totally out of my control,” replacement program Administrator Greg Johnson told the Southwest Washington Regional Transportation Council in March, when replacement program officials were still targeting a spring release.

“We have federal partners who actually own this document, and they are looking very closely and carefully at it for legal sufficiency to make sure all the questions are answered as we move it forward,” Johnson continued. “We’re hoping that this facilitates a shorter time period to get to that final supplemental and the record of decision.”

Whenever the document is released, it will mark a major milestone for program officials.

By law, work in the Columbia River can only be done during a certain window of the year to minimize impact on fish and other wildlife.

Program officials are targeting the fall 2026 in-water work window. If it is missed, it will be another year before much of the construction on the bridge can begin.

“If we miss it, we are a year gone and that year out in 2035 translates to over $300 million,” Johnson said at the March Regional Transportation Council meeting. “So we are intently focused on this schedule and this timeline.”

Despite the setbacks, a spokeswoman for the program said the goal is to start construction in late 2025 or early 2026 for the lead up to the in-water work window. But she added the program will have more clarity on that timeline as the timing of the draft supplemental environmental impact statement becomes clearer.

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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.

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Columbian staff writer