IBRP plans a three-lane replacement Interstate Bridge

Administrator Greg Johnson promises to be data driven on project

At the July 1 Community Advisory Group (CAG) meeting, Interstate Bridge Replacement Program (IBRP) Administrator Greg Johnson shared that the replacement bridge will have three through lanes. The process has previously revealed that citizens’ primary desire for a replacement bridge is a reduction in traffic congestion. How will three lanes reduce traffic congestion, especially when a replacement bridge will serve the Portland/Vancouver region for the next 100 years?

There is no bridge designed yet, but citizens want to learn the details on a multitude of issues. These are related to the height of the bridge for marine traffic, the type of transit being considered, the footprint of the bridge and specific location, what facilities will be included for bike and pedestrians, and more. But overwhelmingly, citizens value their time, and want a significant reduction in traffic congestion.

The CAG had a listening session in June. The feedback was that people wanted them to “plan for a 100-year bridge with future needs and adaptability so we aren’t here in 20 years.”

Multiple surveys indicate people are frustrated at the amount of time they lose being stuck in Portland’s congested traffic. In the past few years, the region has ranged from the eighth to the 12th worst traffic congestion in the nation. It’s been 40 years since a major new transportation corridor and new vehicle capacity has been added in the region. Clark County now has over 70,000 people who commute to Oregon for work, stuck in the traffic congestion.

Johnson recently spoke about four pressing questions the IBRP needs to answer. He offered his plan for the IBRP team’s plans in each of these areas, for the first time.

Those issues are:

• The possible replacement of the north Portland Harbor Bridge?

• Will there be an interchange on Hayden Island directly to I-5 or will it connect via an interchange at Marine Drive?

• How many through lanes will there be?

• What type of high capacity transit will be part of the project?

The IBRP team is looking at many issues related to the design of the replacement bridge. These include changes that have occurred on both sides of the river since the original Record of Decision a decade ago. This graphic shows many areas they are focusing on. Graphic courtesy Interstate Bridge Replacement Program
The IBRP team is looking at many issues related to the design of the replacement bridge. These include changes that have occurred on both sides of the river since the original Record of Decision a decade ago. This graphic shows many areas they are focusing on. Graphic courtesy Interstate Bridge Replacement Program

Johnson has promised to be “data driven” in all aspects of the project.

“We know there are three lanes to the north, three through lanes to the south,” he said. “So we pretty much know there’ll be three through lanes on this bridge. But the issue is how many auxiliary lanes to operate this bridge appropriately, to take some of those merge and weave movements and separate them from the through traffic.”

His team will look at those four questions and is gathering data. “We’re going to be doing some deep dives,” Johnson said. The IBRP team will be running models and hopefully have answers for all of those four questions early in 2022. He hopes to share that information in February or March next year.

The people have repeatedly said reducing traffic congestion is their number one priority. In March, the IBRP released results of their online survey. In a priority ranking exercise, over 9,000 survey respondents ranked their top three problems in the program area. The graphic demonstrates the number of times a problem was ranked in the top three problems.

Reducing traffic congestion received 6,337 votes, roughly 62 percent more than safety and seismic concerns. Limited transit received about 53 percent fewer votes than traffic congestion, and was over 900 votes less than safety and seismic concerns. 

A January 2019 Metro poll showed the number one priority was roads and highways. It reported 31 percent of citizens want “widening roads and highways” as their top priority. The Portland Tribune summarized: “On its own, improving public transit is a lower priority than making road improvements and the more overarching goal of easing traffic — voters still overwhelmingly rely on driving alone to get around,” reads the poll’s conclusions.

The IBRP team hired FM3 in November and December 2020 to take a formal survey of attitudes and desires of metro area citizens regarding the program. 

Traffic congestion topped voters’ concerns, with 68 percent saying it is very or extremely concerning. A major earthquake was second with 51 percent very or extremely concerned. The survey canvassed 917 registered voters in Clark, Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties. According to IBRP staff, they over-sampled people of color and Clark County citizens.

Transportation architect Kevin Peterson scrutinized all the traffic projection data in the former Columbia River Crossing (CRC) project. He shared the data indicating the I-5 transportation corridor would need five through lanes in each direction by 2030 and eight lanes by 2060. 

Has the IBRP team commissioned a new traffic projection evaluation, in order to believe 3 lanes are appropriate for a new bridge expected to last for the next 100 years? Recently ODOT’s Kris Strickler told a Vancouver citizen he didn’t expect to conduct an O&D (origination and destination) survey of traffic patterns. 

Where will the IBRP team get current data? Peterson indicated the CRC traffic data came from Washington DOT studies conducted in the early to mid 2000’s.

Metro predicts regional population will grow by 1.1 million people, from 2.4 million in 2015 to 3.5 million people in 2060. An Oregon State University projection indicates there will be an additional 3.05 million people by 2100 in the Willamette Valley, with the largest majority of growth in the three-county Portland metro area.

The CRC failed for many reasons, including delivering only a one minute improvement in the morning southbound commute. Given that reducing traffic congestion (and travel times) is the people’s top priority, how much time will a three-through lane IBRP bridge save?

Citizens will weigh in on their top priority and decide if there is appropriate value in this project. The IBRP team reported last fall that “if” the former CRC bridge were built today, it would cost between $3.2 billion and $4.8 billion.

Johnson promised his staff would be doing “the tough engineering, the modeling, to look at our traffic numbers to look at the impacts that all of these things will have on the overall community. We’ll be looking at these things in depth over the next six to eight months.” 

He indicates he has received approval from the various partners to move forward. He and his team don’t believe funding issues for the project will be critical until the 2023 to 2024 time frame. Tolls will be a part of the project, Johnson said.

CAG member Martha Wiley asked for a “cradle to grave” analysis between light rail and BRT (bus rapid transit), “including manufacturing the vehicles, the power usage, the environmental impacts of that power usage, and just a whole range of details.”

Bill Prows asked about the demands by politicians, especially Oregon’s Peter DeFazio and Earl Blumenauer, who have said light rail must be part of the bridge project. 

Johnson responded that his team is bound by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the process to get federal dollars on projects like this. “We have to do the hard work of going through the data, running the models, and being transparent enough that folks will see that we are doing the right thing,” he said. 

“We have to have the numbers (data) to back us up,” Johnson said. “We tell elected officials that we have to live by the numbers.” He closed with “we’re professionals, we’ll run the numbers, and the numbers will guide us.”

Tom Gentry asked about the news reports about the TriMet debt issue. Johnson indicated the debt issues are not something the IBRP team will be involved in negotiating between the two transit agencies. His focus is funding the capital costs of some form of transit, either BRT or light rail. The debt “is not the concern of the program,” he said.

Johnson shared that the team is being more aggressive with the media. “We want to be sure we are defining the program rather than having others define it.”

Citizens were surveyed on their priorities for the replacement Interstate Bridge program. They could choose their “top 3” issues. Overwhelmingly people want traffic congestion relief as their top priority, with safety and seismic concerns addressed. Graphic courtesy Interstate Bridge Replacement Program
Citizens were surveyed on their priorities for the replacement Interstate Bridge program. They could choose their “top 3” issues. Overwhelmingly people want traffic congestion relief as their top priority, with safety and seismic concerns addressed. Graphic courtesy Interstate Bridge Replacement Program

The IBRP team provided examples of responding to community input and feedback. The inclusion of climate change and equity issues into the Purpose and Need statement were given as an example.

The detail most citizens want to know, how many through lanes, has apparently been decided. It will be next spring before the IBRP team provides its data and details related to the type of transit, the bridge height, and whether or not there are exits/entrances directly to Hayden Island, and more.

The IBRP was asked “how will three through lanes in each direction reduce traffic congestion?” Furthermore, “what is the data that supports the IBRP team choosing to put 3 through lanes on the replacement bridge, given that this “asset” is expected to serve the Portland/Vancouver region and all of Oregon and Washington, for the next 100 years?”

We have not yet received a response.

The Executive Steering Group which provides oversight for the program will meet Thu., July 15 from 10 a.m.-noon.


  1. RCxyz

    I will most likely be long dead prior to that bridge ever being built. Well, at least I wont have to pay tolls in my lifetime 🙂 .

    1. Gary

      It’s already 3 lanes each way. What am I I missing here? Widening three lanes will not help. 4 each way would make more sense. Or is this a separate new bridge in addition to the interstate I 5 and I 205 bridges?

  2. Anthony Lynch

    I understand only having 3 through lanes initially but the bridge should be built so additional lanes can be added as the freeway is widened on each side of the bridge. It’ll be much easier to restripe the bridge in 10 years then to build another replacement.

  3. Mike

    Light rail is a must! Max terminals currently stand ready on the Oregon side, to not connect to such a green alternative in such a high density chokepoint would certainly be partisan folly.

      1. Mike

        An electric train does not produce carbon emissions, 70,000 cars on the other hand creat an awful lot. That’s what being green means.

        1. John Ley

          Mike —

          In Clark County, roughly 33% of Clark Public Utilities electricity comes from Natural Gas. Are you saying that is “green” in the context of the current public debate about climate change and the state mandating the elimination of fossil fuels?

          The insulation around electric wires comes from fossil fuels. The batteries to hold a charge in many electric vehicles are not “green”.

          Are you saying there are no carbon emissions in the creation of light rail train cars?

          Martha Wiley, member of the CAG of the IBRP just asked to staff to do a “cradle to grave” evaluation of both light rail and BRT to provide an honest evaluation of the environmental impacts of the two choices.

          Do you disagree with her request?

          Finally, here’s a piece that suggests 34% of Oregon’s electric grid comes from coal? And that doesn’t count the percentage from natural gas.

          What percentage of Oregon’s Electricity comes from Coal? | Energy Design (solarenergydesign.com)

          Is MAX still “green”?

          1. Mike

            Clearly that information is wrong. The last coal fired electrical plant in Oregon ( in Boardman ) shut down in October of 2020

          2. Wheresthelogic

            Much of Oregon’s electricity is still natural gas and or imported coal. MAX is in PGE and PPL territories. PPLs 2019 emissions reported to DEQ were 0.689 mtCO2e/MWh and PGE was 0.418 mtCO2e/MWh. PPL total mix is 63% coal. PGE’s 2019 Capacity Mix was 48% natural gas and 21% coal.

    1. Wheresthelogic

      Light rail at $20M per mile is a boondoggle and waste of taxpayer money. Lane dedicated for buses & HOV is more flexible to meet changing regional needs and can combine local and express services. MAX stops every two blocks and is way too slow and unreliable. Doesn’t work in extreme heat or icy conditions.

      1. Mike

        Over 120,900 ride Max every day and that’s using 2019 stats. That number is obviously higher now and would continue to go up when built. A boondoggle is the multi billion dollar border wall that will not stop anything.

        1. pete

          And, exactly where were these Max riders riding to/from? Some of the Max lines are reasonably “rapid” as in “rapid transit”, but the line that would connect up to a crossing at the Interstate bridge is the slow line to nowhere. Besides, riding transit is at best, unpleasant. (I know, I rode BART for many years.)

      2. John Ley

        Where’s the logic:

        One more factual nugget to add to your list. The MAX Yellow line travels an average of 10 MPH on its way to downtown Portland. There are 17 stations on the line.

        Because it stops almost every mile, it never gets up to speed and spends a lot of time stopped at the light rail platforms for passengers to get on and off.

    2. pete

      Note that the line on the Portland side of the bridge is limited to 15mph speed and has to stop at every block or two. It is not a limited access, grade separated transit system. It’s nothing but a fancy trolly car, and that technology went out of style in the 1920s.

  4. Jim

    No O&D? I would think that would be very important data. Wouldn’t you want to know if commuters are coming from Ridgefield or Camas to work in Beaverton? If Google can tell where the slow downs on the freeway are they should be able to see where the majority of commuters originate and their destination.

  5. Carolyn Crain

    So Johnson is responsible for looking at transit. Transit doesn’t include private vehicles or freight. Houston we have a problem.

  6. Richard

    3 lanes simply is not an improvement. 4 lanes would be an improvement, but honestly 5 lanes moving onto and beyond the new brigge for a mile either side is what it will take and no Max Line please


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