One or two ‘local’ bridge connections to Marine Drive possible
Last week (Sept. 27), the Hayden Island community was offered their own “community engagement” session by the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program (IBRP) team. They are at “ground zero” for impacts by the proposed replacement of the I-5 bridge as it crosses the Columbia River.
Roughly 14 members of the community were presented with three main options regarding interchanges for the project, plus a variety of sub-options. As part of the over two-hour meeting, they spent roughly half an hour in two breakout sessions, which could not be heard by the general public, but which were later summarized.
One comment that surfaced even before the breakout sessions, was community members wanting “more data” on the impacts of the options they were being presented, especially from a traffic impact perspective.
The three options centered around whether or not to have I-5 interchanges on Hayden Island. Their choices were for a full interchange with on and off ramps to the interstate in both north and southbound directions. Second was no interchanges, but access via two “local” bridges after traffic uses the Marine Drive interchanges on I-5. Third was a “half interchange.” It served Vancouver and Southwest Washington residents with a southbound exit off the freeway, and then an onramp to I-5 north for the return trip across the river.
One of the main problems for traffic congestion on I-5 presently is that there are four interchanges within about two miles. They are Mill Plain, the SR-14 merge (with Washington Street feeding southbound), Hayden Island, and then Marine Drive and Expo Center exit. Those four interchanges in such a short distance add to the congestion and create a “merge and weave” problem for traffic. Federal law normally requires two miles between interchanges, with a one-mile exception in an urban area.
One person labeled the full interchange “the double loop from hell.” Businesses expressed interest in having the full interchanges on Hayden Island. Residents offered mixed reviews, desiring either the half interchange or the full interchange option.
“Marine Drive needs to be fixed in addition to Hayden Island — makes the traffic flow better for both interchanges,” was another citizen’s comment.
“Marine Drive interchange is a nightmare if you’re trying to get back to Hayden Island,” said another.
There were many concerns about the width of the bridge and its footprint on the island. People repeatedly wanted to know how many cars and trucks would be flowing on streets and interchanges, based on each option. The traffic engineer didn’t have the answer, indicating “that will come later.”
The three options
The full interchanges or “the double loop from hell” would take up the most land on the island. It requires four ramps and uses two streets to handle traffic exiting and entering. Jantzen Drive and Hayden Island Drive would both become busy feeder streets handling large volumes of traffic.
One of the problems with the previous Columbia River Crossing (CRC) effort was the huge footprint the bridge consumed on and over the island. Citizens might wonder how this compares with the footprint of the previous CRC design.
The half interchange option would basically serve Vancouver and Clark County residents. It would provide an off ramp from I-5 southbound, and then an on ramp to I-5 northbound. This would facilitate traffic accessing the shopping areas on Hayden Island.
Traffic on Hayden Island seeking to go southbound into Portland would use one new “local” bridge over the north Portland harbor, connecting to the mainland and the Marine Drive ramps. Under both the full and half interchange options, the project is proposing a single “local” bridge connecting the island to the mainland. The location could be either on the east or west side of the replacement I-5 bridge.
Under the “no interchange” on Hayden Island option, it would require two separate new local bridges connecting the island to the mainland. All traffic would exit and enter I-5 using the Marine Dr. interchange. This would likely consume the least amount of land on the island. It would eliminate one of the current four interchanges within the 5-mile project area.
In the CRC, the plan was to do a seismic upgrade of the north Portland harbor bridge. The current IBRP team indicates they are likely to replace this bridge as part of the project.
During the session, citizens asked why there couldn’t be a separate, local access bridge to Vancouver. Others indicated a general frustration with traffic jams in general. Ellen Churchill asked for the project to alleviate traffic congestion. “We can’t get on the freeway to get groceries a lot of times during the day,” she said.
One citizen expressed frustration that “we’re starting with the failed CRC,” instead of starting with a clean slate for a better solution. Another mentioned commuting to downtown Portland and pre-COVID, spent two hours a day stuck in traffic.
The island residents do a lot of shopping at either the Hayden Island Target or the Vancouver Fred Meyer. Apparently it is quicker and easier for them to go to Vancouver than fight traffic into other Portland stores for groceries.
Resident Tom Dana was intimately involved in the previous CRC effort. He is worried the current effort will also end up being a disaster like the CRC was nearly a decade ago.The previous effort would have “split the island and ruined the island.” Dana hopes that won’t happen again and their community can be preserved..
“We only take 33rd and MLK local streets between 1:30 and 6 p.m.; but we do like to go to the Hayden Island Target and Vancouver Fred Meyer,” one person said. Another spoke of using Interstate Ave. for north-south access, but “it’s still not good,” hoping for reduced traffic congestion and improved travel times.
Others spoke about all the freight traffic coming from the Port of Portland. They asked if there couldn’t be a separate bridge for freight traffic or a way to separate the freight trucks from the rest of the traffic. This was a safety issue for many. “Marine Drive is a nightmare” was one comment.
“Without seeing traffic numbers and data, I can’t provide an educated opinion,” said one person. “Without this information, we’re simply hearing people’s opinions and anecdotes.”
People are using Marine Drive as a cut through to access I-205, due to all the traffic congestion. “Please design to prevent this use,” was the person’s plea. Another again emphasized the need for data and traffic numbers.
“Build an arterial bridge close to the existing bridge,” another citizen requested.
The residents noted there are presently too many interchanges on and off I-5 now, and that is causing the congestion. “There are too many ramps to get on the freeways,” was one comment.
Some thought transit to and from the island would help. There were concerns that additional traffic would negatively impact bike and pedestrian travel on the island.
One person asked if the IBRP team was considering a collector-distributor design. That seemed to catch the staffer off guard, but here is an in depth discussion on the benefits of a collector-distributor model from transportation architect Kevin Peterson.
The staff was criticized for not getting materials to the residents in advance. “If you want good feedback from us, then we need materials ahead of time so that we can be ready to share our thoughts.”
Costs of the various options offered were not mentioned during the briefing by the IBRP team. In the CRC, forensic accountant Tiffany Couch revealed cost allocation discrepancies and indicated interchanges in Oregon would cost $796 million. Washington interchanges would cost $713 million.
The IBRP team plans to have a specific bridge project proposal ready for citizens to consider by next March. They hope to begin construction in 2025 according to their timeline.
At a recent meeting of 16 Oregon and Washington legislators last month, IBRP Administrator Greg Johnson said there would not be much improvement in travel times.
During the meeting with legislators, Johnson responded to a question Oregon Sen. Lew Frederick asked. “How much time will drivers save rather than just saying congestion will be addressed?” He referenced citizens’ dissatisfaction with the one minute improvement in the failed CRC effort.
The answer from Johnson indicated people shouldn’t expect any significant improvement.
“We know that we cannot build our way out of congestion,” he said. “We could build 50 lanes, but at the end of the project, and at the beginning of the project, there are three through lanes in each direction. So building something tremendously bigger and wider, doesn’t solve our problem.”
Unmentioned in the meeting was the fact that the “local” bridge connection to Marine Drive would then allow Hayden Island residents to avoid paying Oregon’s coming tolls to drive on I-5, if they choose to use other arterials. Presently, the only access to/from Hayden Island is via I-5.