Letter: ‘The people need an affordable, responsible project that will meet transportation needs for the next century’

John Ley shares his thoughts on recent comments by an ODOT official regarding the proposed I-5 Bridge replacement project

Editor’s note: Opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are those of the author alone and do not reflect the editorial position of ClarkCountyToday.com

Kris Strickler says the Interstate Bridge Replacement (IBR) program will help many communities. Spreading $7.5 billion for the largest public works project in regional history will certainly line the pockets of hundreds of businesses with government largess. But will the project actually help average citizens?

Photo of John Ley
Photo of John Ley

Administrator Greg Johnson and the IBR team want to replace an over congested 3-lane bridge with another 3-lane bridge. How will this help the 140,000 people who cross the Columbia River on I-5 each day? How will this help over 300,000 people who use the two bridges which act as a transportation system connecting the two states? How will this help the thousands of freight haulers connecting our ports and businesses and agricultural producers?

Sadly, the answer is it won’t help any of these people. The IBR team has already admitted that by 2045, morning commute times from Salmon Creek in Vancouver to the Fremont Bridge will double. Even worse, they project that HALF of rush hour traffic will be stuck going zero to 20 miles per hour.

Do the planners expect less traffic or more traffic during the next 50 years? I think everyone but the planners know that answer.

If you’re concerned about the environment, this doesn’t help when more vehicles are stuck in traffic congestion. If you’re worried about freight mobility, this doesn’t help get goods to market faster. If saving time to be with your family is your top priority, this doesn’t help.

Economist Joe Cortright reports daily round trip tolls between Vancouver and Wilsonville could be as high as $28-$31 depending on if one uses I-5 or I-205. How will that help hardworking low- and middle-income families who must cross the river for employment?

Strickler says the IBR will serve people “walking, biking, rolling.” But how many people in the active transportation community will want to navigate a 4-7 percent grade off ramp in Vancouver to access the waterfront? Both I-5 and I-205 bridges are currently “multi-modal” with pathways for active transportation. 

The Coast Guard says the bridge must provide at least 178 feet of clearance for marine traffic. How will the IBR’s proposed 116 feet bridge help up-river businesses who occasionally need all 178 feet? Why is Strickler ignoring these businesses and the maritime industry? How much of our tax dollars is Strickler willing to spend to “mitigate” the harm done?

Oregon and Washington are building a bridge across the Columbia River at Hood River for $520 million. Why should we spend 14 times that amount on a 3-lane bridge? The IBR reports the cost of the actual bridge replacement is $500 million, less than 7 percent of the total project.

ODOT has at least a $3 billion funding shortfall. Shouldn’t Strickler be pushing for a cost effective, affordable IBR project? He has pared back the I-205 Abernethy Bridge project, paused the Rose Quarter and Wilsonville Boone Bridge projects. Yet he expresses no concerns over the IBR’s doubling of IBR cost estimates. Oregon Governor Tina Kotek has paused tolling over equity and traffic diversion concerns.

TriMet officials are loading up the IBR with unnecessary pork barrel spending. They demand 19 new light rail vehicles for a 3-mile MAX extension, but only 4 new vehicles for their “better red” 10-mile extension to Hillsboro. TriMet is also demanding a huge expansion of its Ruby Junction maintenance facility as part of the IBR, adding unnecessary expense.

Less than 1,000 people a day currently use transit to cross the Columbia River over both bridges. Cutting the light rail portion of the IBR would save up to $2 billion, one quarter of the project’s cost.

Who are Strickler and ODOT serving? The IBR’s 3-lane $7.5 billion “bridge too low” proposal will not “serve the community for the next 100 years”. It appears to be nothing more than “a light rail project in search of a bridge,” just like the failed Columbia River Crossing project a decade ago.

The people need an affordable, responsible project that will meet transportation needs for the next century. As Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said when visiting the region last month, people want to save time — it’s their most valuable commodity. The current proposal fails that common sense test. 

John Ley

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  1. Alexander Marinesko

    Fares on Light Rail only pay 15% of operating costs! I’ll bet C-tran could cross that bridge $2 billon cheaper….

  2. Margaret

    History of proposed I-5 replacement bridge:
    When the Oregon Columbia River Crossing oversight committee met in Oregon in 2011, they asked about the bus alternative instead of light rail. 

    “CRC Deputy Director Kris Strickler said cost was a driving force behind presenting five different alternatives in the DEIS, some of which offered bus rapid transit instead of light rail.

    “At that time, cost was a factor,” Strickler said. “It was a driver in the discussion.”

    Cost should always be a factor in public projects. Finding the least costly transportation options that serve the most people should be key. Now the IBR bloated price-tag of 7.5 BILLION for the proposed I-5 bridge replacement project includes the most costly, least flexible form of transit, light rail for the 1-3% of river crossings that utilize public transit Apparently the planners are counting on never ending, always rising tolls on the 97% of crossings to build their dream.
    See Public transit buses and vans superior to costly light rail for I-5 Bridge replacement


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