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News / Clark County News

Interstate Bridge Replacement Program officials want span that’s attractive to cyclists, walkers, those using wheelchairs

Equity roundtable looks at how to support transportation beyond motor vehicles

By Dylan Jefferies, Columbian staff writer
Published: May 23, 2024, 6:08am

The Interstate 5 Bridge is a hard road to travel on foot or by bike. The sidewalks are tiny, the traffic is thunderous, and the intermittent shaking and creaking of the 107-year-old structure sends fears of a massive earthquake down your spine.

Officials with the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program argue it doesn’t have to be that way. They hope to build a replacement bridge that’s attractive to walkers, bicyclists and those who use wheelchairs.

On Tuesday, officials working on the bridge replacement project hosted an online equity roundtable to discuss how the replacement bridge might support transportation beyond cars.

Eighty-nine percent of the current bridge’s width is dedicated to cars and freight, said Greg Johnson, the bridge replacement program’s administrator. The new bridge will bring that down to 55 percent, he said. The rest will be dedicated to public transit, pedestrians, bikers and rollers.

“This is a concerted effort to do things differently,” he said. “This is not an afterthought, but a serious attempt to give people options of how they travel through this corridor.”

Designers are working to exceed Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, said Natalie Owen, who is leading the bridge replacement project’s active transportation efforts.

“For each design challenge — of which we know there are many … — we engage in studies to understand all of the available options,” Owen said. She added the program’s conceptual design report will be released soon and that the document will provide more details about those studies.

“So much of our active transportation design unfortunately still assumes that cars are the most important thing to move,” said Anna Zivarts of Disability Rights Washington. “Are we designing a system where the pedestrian and bike elements are add-ons? Or are we actually trying to design a system that’s going to reduce the number of vehicles, reduce our car dependency, reduce our climate emissions and improve our public health?”

Johnson replied that program officials are incorporating additional modes of transportation early in the planning process to ensure they are part of the final design.

“We are we are having these conversations years before this project will break ground,” he said. “We are doing some unique things that are different than you would see on a mega project anywhere else. No. 1, you don’t see a lot of bike, walk and roll facilities on interstate highways. And this one, we are making it an attractive part of what we are doing to try and get folks out of those single-occupancy vehicle trips.”

Program officials will need to consider compromises to ensure the program receives sufficient funding, said Sarah Iannarone, executive director of The Street Trust, a cycling advocacy group.

“I really do think that the team is putting out some world-class designs when it comes to the public and active transportation aspects,” she said. “But I do think that for us to get this project right, we’re going to have to be realistic about what we can spend.”

The replacement bridge is expected to cost roughly $7.5 billion, Johnson said. That figure includes infrastructure for additional transportation modes, such as walking and biking, he said.

To learn more about upcoming Interstate Bridge Replacement Program events, visit www.interstatebridge.org/calendar.