Opinion: I-5 Bridge replacement is not a solution for anything

John Charles believes the Interstate Bridge should be left alone for now and ODOT should be directed to start planning for two new bridges.
File photo

The Interstate Bridge should be left alone for now and ODOT should be directed to start planning for two new bridges

John Charles
Cascade Policy Institute

Over the next four weeks, the Oregon Legislature will decide whether to make a down payment of $1 billion to replace the I-5 Interstate Bridge connecting Portland with Vancouver. The total cost of the bridge is unknown but is estimated to be around $6 billion.

The Legislature should reject this allocation and shut down planning altogether on the Interstate Bridge Replacement Project (IBRP).

The No. 1 concern for the public when it comes to highway planning is traffic congestion and there is no way a single replacement bridge on I-5 could ever reduce congestion. The entire I-5 corridor from Wilsonville to Vancouver is over-subscribed for about 12 hours per day and this will only get worse as the region grows.

The Interstate Bridge should be left alone for now and ODOT should be directed to start planning for two new bridges — one upstream from the Glenn Jackson I-205 bridge and one downstream from the I-5 Interstate Bridge. The new crossings would eliminate most congestion on the existing bridges, while providing essential redundancy in the event of a catastrophic earthquake.

We especially need a new Columbia River bridge with a direct connection to Highway 26 near Hillsboro. Not only would this reduce the total amount of driving for thousands of westside motorists – who now have to drive to Portland just to get to Vancouver — it would provide much-needed congestion relief at three current bottlenecks: the Sylvan hills tunnels on Highway 26, the Fremont Bridge and I-5 in north Portland.

Planners and their political allies seem to be missing a central truth about river-based cities: they need lots of bridge crossings. In downtown Portland, we have two interstate highway bridges over the Willamette River, plus many local crossings including the Burnside, Steel, Morrison and Hawthorne bridges.

Each crossing serves a market and is necessary for the proper functioning of the city. If we applied ODOT’s logic for the IBRP, we’d tear down all the local Willamette River bridges and just keep the Marquam and Fremont Bridges.

Of course, we’re not going to do that because it would be insane. But it’s considered brilliant planning for the Columbia River.

Planning for a new Interstate Bridge began in 1997, and 25 years later we have nothing to show for it. Legislators should chart a new course by withholding the requested $1 billion and ordering ODOT to start planning for new bridges and highways outside the I-5 corridor.

John A. Charles, Jr. is president and CEO of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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  1. John Ley

    John Charles nails it! Thank you.

    The 2008 Regional Transportation Council (RTC) “Visioning Study” identified the need for TWO new bridges and transportation corridors. One west of I-5 and one east of I-205. This is exactly what John Charles is proposing.

    Regional population has DOUBLED sine the last new bridge and transportation corridor was built. The I-205 corridor and Glenn Jackson Bridge opened in Dec. 1982. Regional population has doubled!

    We need more vehicle capacity to reduce traffic congestion and improve freight mobility!


      I AGREE 100 % – IT IS PAINFUL for me to once again, watch the awkward fumbling of this same topic revisited over and over and over!


    My Genius Friend wrote the following RE The I-5 Columbia River Bridge Crossing:
    Grand Slam of TRUTH from a creditable source (such as yourself John) THIS is so relieving and is SO FACTUAL, ALL Voters need to finally know the truth & what has been held back from them. [as I viewed it as a $5 Billion scam, (IBR already “on Paper” gutted the ENTIRE I-5 bridges resources, a bridge Engineers testified right next to me “would last another 40+ years”) once the Bi-State Panel ignored the ONLY SOLUTION, giving birth to IBR to exist (Ignoring “Why CRC Failed”) to “Relieving Traffic Congestion along the I-5 Corridor” … is 3rd Interstate Bridge where I propose as the ONLY SOLUTION]. We NEED EVERYBODY TO SEE THIS! As IBR needs to be dissolved. – The ONLY positive I can see out of this is PRIVATE BUSINESS is willing to impede “The Will of The People” for its own sinister business interests (“Tri-Met Lightrail”). Luckily “To Steal a Bridge” it takes a long time due to REAL PLANNING that wasn’t recognized until NOW. This can’t be ignored any longer, as IBR is wasting taxpayers time to implement solution & this is throw money Taxpayers Federal $ we won’t see for another 20 years if a good economy. You’ve got my 3rd Interstate Bridge Proposal John… Listening to the radio, every time traffic gets backs up due to weather or Traffic Congestion, the location of 3rd bridge from I-5/Battle Ground exit West 1.5 miles to Columbia River, connecting to Highway 30/Scappoose/District 22 with plenty of land to build new housing Oregon needs… it’s not magic or rocket science, it’s a viable thought out solution that The Voters deserved, long ago.


    I just received a BIG 8×5 Multi-Colored POST CARD in the mail, inviting everyone to “GET INVOLVED” in The I-5 Bridge Columbia River Crossing Discussion! WHAT a joke! The $ MONEY $ that was wasted to print these up and mail hundreds of thousands of them, could certainly GO toward actual discussion and input from other experts on what is the best way to go! GET INVOLVED? Is a rea joke, especially since the oligarchy has pretty much already decided what they intend to do, one of which is to TOLL the hell out of The Citizens! THEY are no more interested in what WE have to say then ‘a COW jumping over the moon’! As always they want you to THINK you have a say. I have an old saying that fts here as well as any toher, “Same Sheet, different day!” if you get my gist.


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