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News / Clark County News

Washington, Oregon legislators press I-5 Bridge replacement officials about permits, cost and impact on property owners

Construction set to begin in late 2025

By Dylan Jefferies, Columbian staff writer
Published: June 10, 2024, 6:21pm

Legislators from Washington and Oregon who convened virtually Monday to discuss replacement of the Interstate 5 Bridge raised concerns about progress on the project.

“We are steaming toward … construction,” Greg Johnson, the project’s administrator, assured them. He said it’s set to begin late 2025.

Legislators, however, questioned him about delays. For example, the U.S. Coast Guard has yet to approve plans, and the draft environmental impact statement — a document needed to start construction — has been delayed multiple times and is yet to be released.

Johnson assured the lawmakers that both are on the horizon.

“We have solidified anticipated timelines for these key federal decisions and permits and the supporting work necessary for these approvals,” he said.

He added that project leaders hope to wrap up the required draft supplemental environmental review this year and then get approval and a “record of decision” from the federal government late next year.

A record of decision is federal acknowledgment that a project meets all federal guidelines and is eligible for federal dollars.

Vancouver Republicans Sen. Lynda Wilson and Rep. Paul Harris raised concerns about the impact the project might have on property owners in the path of the new bridge.

“Have we determined the actual footprint of the bridge yet?” Harris asked.

Not yet, Johnson replied.

“We do not get to a final footprint until we have officially a record of decision, which will come next year,” he said. “We’re getting information out to folks on what this preliminary footprint looks like and what those impacts could possibly be. But we cannot go into real estate discussions until we have a record of decision.”

Wilson pressed the issue.

“We’ve heard from several people who are concerned about whether eminent domain will be used and whether their properties will be sucked into the path of this bridge,” she said. “Will they have an opportunity to weigh in on this?”

Johnson said everyone will get a chance to weigh in on the proposed footprint when it is released. Following the release of the draft environmental impact statement, there will be a mandatory 60-day public comment period along with public hearings, he said.

“Eminent domain is the last tool in the toolbox that our real estate folks use to acquire property for a project or program like this,” Johnson added. “Once we get into the right-of-way phase, we will be having detailed conversations with those folks, so they understand their rights, and they understand the negotiation process for the value of their home, and how their home gets valued in the process.”

Johnson encouraged people who are concerned to visit the program’s office hours.

“You can set up a time to come and talk to us,” he said. “We will talk to anyone who has an interest, whether they’re in the footprint or outside of the footprint.”

Lawmakers also questioned program officials about the cost of expanding the bridge to better accommodate walkers, bikers and people who use mobility devices.

“We are not ignoring the needs of highway traffic,” Johnson said. “We’re building something that if you choose not to use a car, then you’ll be able to get safely across this bridge.”

Program officials also discussed the status of multiple needed permits, potential tolling scenarios and funding for the project. Officials also shared visualizations for the replacement bridge, discussed workforce readiness and answered frequently asked questions.

“We are on a good path to get this project underway,” Johnson said.

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