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News / Clark County News

The worst pavement panels on I-5 north of Vancouver will be fixed this summer

Next year, nearly all of the panels will be replaced south of the fairgrounds

By William Seekamp, Columbian staff writer
Published: March 13, 2024, 3:01pm

Some of the roughest sections of Interstate 5 in Clark County are slated to be upgraded this summer.

The Washington State Department of Transportation will replace 25 to 30 of the most damaged concrete panels on southbound I-5 between Ridgefield and the I-5/I-205 split in Salmon Creek. The work is estimated at $2 million.

But more work will be needed.

The north county section of the freeway has about 8,400 panels that were installed 50 to 70 years ago. Hundreds are cracked or sunken and are in need of replacement, according to WSDOT officials.

For now, rough-road signs and advisories suggesting speed reductions from 70 mph to 60 mph and 60 mph to 50 mph have been erected on that stretch.

Next year, WSDOT will fix and smooth out all the panels on southbound I-5 from 179th Street to the I-5/I-205 split. The project is estimated to cost $12 million.

If subsequent funding allows, WSDOT officials will fix all panels on southbound I-5 between Ridgefield and 179th Street.

“This project will use more than 100,000 tons of asphalt. One truck carries 15 tons,” a WSDOT blog post said. “That adds up to more than 6,600 trucks full of asphalt for this one project.”

State Secretary of Transportation Roger Millar told the Washington State Standard in May 2023 that he thinks lawmakers put too much money into financing new transportation projects and not enough into upkeep.

The 2023 two-year, $13.4 billion transportation budget included $700 million per year for highway maintenance and preservation — about $300 million less than Millar estimated is needed.

“We need to dedicate a higher percentage of our total transportation investment to maintenance,” Gov. Jay Inslee told The Columbian in February. “We do have deteriorating roads. And I have agreed with him, the Legislature has not been as supportive of maintenance as I wish they had been.”

Funding new projects and maintenance is a balancing act, Sen. Marko Liias, D-Everett, chair of the Senate Transportation Committee told The Columbian in September.

“We have to walk and chew gum at the same time. We have to both fix what we’ve got and also plan for the future,” Liias said. “For folks that are in the executive branch, asking for money is easier than those of us that have to ask our constituents to pay more.

“Ultimately, as costs have gone up for families, we have to be cautious about how much we’re asking folks that are really being stressed to pay,” Liias added. “How can we have government be efficient and effective to make sure we’re stretching that dollar as far as they can go so when we come to the public and say we need a little bit more, we have the credibility that we’ve managed the resources well?”

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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