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Tue Dec 1, 2020, 02:53 PM

Columbia River Crossing Freeway Project Is Back

For the second time this century, the states of Washington and Oregon are gearing up to attempt to replace the I-5 bridge over the Columbia river between the two states. The current set of two bridges, one built in 1917 and the other in 1958, has “significant seismic vulnerabilities,” but a previous plan to replace the bridge ended in 2013 when the Washington state legislature failed to include the project in a transportation funding package.

That iteration, called the Columbia River Crossing, was pegged at $3.4 billion and with such a high price tag because the project wasn’t simply a one-for-one replacement, but a doubling of the highway with numerous new interchanges, as well as funding for light rail from Portland to its fast-growing suburb Vancouver, a haven for those seeking to avoid Oregon’s income tax while still living close enough to take advantage of its lack of sales tax. Vancouver is the county seat of Clark County, which has seen its population more than double since 1990, when it was just 238,053 to today when it’s approaching 500,000 residents.

Opponents of the bridge, often at odds with each other, included light rail opponents like then-state senator and later Trump staffer Don Benton, and environmental advocates opposed to highway expansion. It was largely the price tag and lack of desire in Clark County for light rail, though, that caused the project to meet a dead end, with many high profile regional environmental groups staying out of the fight yet cheering its demise.

current configuration

Proposed configuration

The design of the CRC would have taken the current six lanes of I-5 between the states to ten lanes plus four shoulders, and “optimized” seven interchanges on either side of the river. A full 40% of the cost of the project would have been for those interchanges, significantly more than the 30% that would have been for the bridges themselves, showing how much highway expansion was included in the CRC under the guise of replacing aging infrastructure.


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