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Third Columbia River Bridge (Portland-Vancouver)

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For educational & discussion purposes only:

Monday, October 3, 2005

Columbian staff writers

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The mother of all Portland-Vancouver highway projects will take years to study, design and build. It will require expensive property acquisitions on both sides of the Columbia River. And the financial hangover from the $1 billion-plus project is likely to linger in the form of bridge tolls for decades to come.

It's no wonder divergent groups are pushing for an alternative.

"This is complex and expensive," said Jay Lyman, project manager for the Columbia River Crossing project, a bi-state effort to ease congestion near the I-5 Bridge. "People should rightfully say, 'Is there a better way to do it?' "

Several business people, consultants and politicians think they have the answer: A third bridge connecting Vancouver to Portland a mile downriver from the existing bridge, an idea that has been studied and rejected.

One proponent calls for a triple-deck span to replace the existing BNSF Railway bridge with room for cars, trucks, freight trains, bicycles, pedestrians and Portland's light-rail line. Another would retrofit the I-5 Bridge with a couple of extra lanes and build a smaller bridge, linking west Hayden Island and north Portland to a revitalized Vancouver waterfront. Others want to explore a mixture of ideas.

All say their proposals are cheaper and easier than replacing the I-5 Bridge.

But a review of documentation compiled so far by traffic engineers reveals a third bridge would not provide much relief for mounting congestion on I-5, where daily traffic is projected to swell by 38 percent, to 180,000 cars and trucks in 2020.

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Engineers face a knotty problem: Build a 10-lane span that fits neatly between Vancouver's revitalizing downtown and the Vancouver National Historic Reserve. It must be low enough to connect to state Highway 14 and not interfere with airplanes from Pearson Field, but high enough to allow barges to pass without having to stop traffic to open a drawbridge.

And, even though the I-5 Bridge is believed to be the last drawbridge on the nation's interstate freeway system one that is raised and lowered almost 400 times a year engineers won't rule out building another drawbridge with more lanes for traffic.

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Proponents say a third bridge would provide a needed alternative for bumper-to-bumper traffic on I-5. They cite data that 70 percent to 80 percent of traffic enters or exits the freeway in a five-mile stretch from Columbia Boulevard in Portland to state Highway 500 in Vancouver.

However, as engineers who have studied the problem point out, there is little reason to believe these drivers would go a mile or more out of their way to use a third bridge. And, while a third bridge might do little to alleviate freeway congestion, engineers say it would dump traffic onto west Vancouver streets.

A previous bistate group appointed by Washington's and Oregon's governors explored the possibility of a west arterial road connecting west Vancouver to Portland's St. Johns neighborhood. The Portland/Vancouver I-5 Transportation and Trade Partnership's final plan in June 2002 showed the west arterial would reduce I-5 congestion by 17 percent. But it would cost nearly as much as replacing the I-5 Bridge, about $972 million.

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A third bridge is needed but I think they are not thinking out of the box enough. The bridge should go north of Vancouver & link to the 217 corridor. It will provide both a bypass & a Washington access to Washington County without having to go through Portland. Then extend the Interstate LRT line across the river into Vancouver on the new interstate bridge to help alleviate the " 70 percent to 80" who get on & off I-5 between SR 500 & the river.

Also, screw Pearson Field. Build a real bridge, no draw bridge. Pearson Field is close to downtown & could be nicey developed without disturbing Ft. Vancouver & the other historical stuff in the area.

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