Opinion: Plenty of reasons exist why current I-5 Bridge replacement project should be paused, if not scrapped altogether

Editor Ken Vance comments on the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program team’s Modified Locally Preferred Alternative and the overwhelming support it is getting from the majority of area elected officials.
File photo.

Editor Ken Vance comments on the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program team’s Modified Locally Preferred Alternative and the overwhelming support it is getting from the majority of area elected officials

I’m sure that many, if not most, of you are like me in that you have a long list of memories of the times when you have been disappointed and let down by elected officials. I understand that somewhere in the neighborhood of half the time, my opinion is going to be in opposition to others, including those who have been elected to represent us. However, what I witnessed this week defies all logic and understanding.

Editor Ken Vance
Editor Ken Vance

This month, the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program (IBR) team has reached out to area organizations, boards and councils – which the IBR refers to as their “partners” – in an attempt to receive a vote of support or endorsement of its recommendation for a Modified Locally Preferred Alternative (MLPA). With very few exceptions, the IBR team has received exactly what it is looking for – blind faith and loyalty to the project. I find it absolutely mind boggling that this has happened in the face of a seemingly endless amount of reasons why our elected officials should, at the very least, pause this effort until key questions are answered, if not kill it altogether.

On Monday, members of the Vancouver City Council unanimously approved a resolution stating the city’s support for the IBR recommendations in the LPA. Those council members include Bart Hansen, Ty Stober, Erik Paulsen, Sarah Fox and Kim Harless.

A news release from the city reported, “The MLPA aligns with goals identified in the City’s Strategic Plan, Comprehensive Plan, Transportation System Plan and Vancouver City Center Vision.’’

Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle said, “City Council’s vote to support the Modified Locally Preferred Alternative reflects Vancouver’s continuing support for the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program. The MLPA identifies what will be further analyzed to achieve our shared regional goals for safe, efficient and reliable movement of all modes. The next phase of work will help us further define how the freight, active transportation, transit and vehicular network can be designed in a way that supports our economy, the climate and efforts to more equitably provide for all users.“

Hansen, Stober and McEnerny-Ogle are also members of the C-TRAN Board of Directors, which also voted 8-1 earlier this week to support the IBR’s MLPA. They were joined by fellow board members Temple Lentz (Clark County Council), Ron Onslow (representing Ridgefield, La Center, Yacolt), Greg Anderson (Camas), Philip Johnson (Battle Ground), Molly Coston (Washougal) in voting to support the IBR’s proposal. Only Clark County Chair Karen Dill Bowerman voted in opposition.

The 15-member Southwest Washington Regional Transportation Council Board of Directors also voted in favor of the IBR’s MLPA this week. Bowerman, Clark County Councilor Gary Medvigy and Camas City Council Member Leslie Lewallen were the only votes against supporting the IBR proposal. Whitney Mosback (Cowlitz Indian Tribe) abstained. The other board members are Lentz, McEnerny-Ogle, Paulsen, Tom Lannen (Skamania County), David Sauter (Klickitat County), Adrian Cortes (Battle Ground), Larry Keister (representing ports of Camas-Washougal, Ridgefield and Vancouver), Shawn Donaghy (C-TRAN), Carley Francis (WSDOT), Rian Windsheimer (ODOT) and Shirley Craddick (Portland Metro). 

On Tuesday, members of the Clark County Council will consider a resolution that does offer some push back against the IBR MLPA. With Bowerman and Medvigy already on record in opposition to the current proposed project, it is my hope that the majority of the council will offer a rare glimpse of common sense on this matter. More on that next week.

I think it’s important that each of us know which elected officials are supporting this project and which aren’t because this is potentially a $5 billion expenditure of taxpayer dollars. And, at the time I am writing this, there are more than enough reasons for a representative of the citizens should be concerned about what is being proposed.

My concerns about the project

I am not against replacing the I-5 Bridge. I realize it needs to be done, when it needs to be done is debatable. When he and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown signed the Memorandum of Intent in November 2019, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said, “This bridge could fall down any day, with a small seismic event.” Clark County Today has offered evidence that the odds of a megaquake are roughly one in 10 in the next 50 years. So, I’m not sure the replacement of the current bridge is as urgent as the governor does.

This region has essentially done nothing to address our transportation congestion issues since the I-205 Glenn Jackson Bridge was completed 40 years ago. Our elected officials and community leaders have shown virtually no vision for solving our transportation issues in that time. So, that record would indicate our next bite at the apple may be the only one for quite a long time. We have to make sure the next project is a good one. Personally, I prefer the construction of a third crossing and corridor before we replace the I-5 Bridge, or better yet, one project that addresses both a third crossing AND an I-5 Bridge replacement. I realize that likely isn’t realistic.

But, this column is about the project that the IBR team has recommended. Here are just a few of the reasons why I was hoping our elected officials would stand up and say no to the MLPA as it exists today.

No traffic congestion relief

If $5 billion in taxpayer dollars are going to be spent at this first bite at the transportation apple, shouldn’t we make sure it addresses the concern of 78 percent of Washington residents, who want any I-5 Bridge replacement project to provide reduced travel times for vehicles and freight. Personally, it is my top priority. It is my litmus test. If it doesn’t, I want the project killed immediately.

Clark County Today has previously reported the IBR team’s own projections indicate the current project will not improve travel times. In fact, travel times could actually double by 2045 if this current project is completed 

No light rail

Each time Clark County voters have been asked about having TriMet’s light rail extended into Vancouver, they have responded with an emphatic “No!’’ Yet, the IBR team is proposing that, as part of the project, TriMet’s MAX Yellow Line be extended into Vancouver up to Evergreen Blvd. 

I would prefer the much cheaper alternative for public transportation, which is C-TRAN’s Bus Rapid Transit, which would reduce the cost of the bridge project and be more cost efficient after the project is completed. 

In addition, there is still a looming disagreement between C-TRAN and TriMet officials about who will be responsible for the maintenance and operations of the light rail extension on this side of the bridge.

Tolls and new taxes

I don’t know anybody who is excited about Oregon’s planned tolling program, which will likely be approved by feds with or without an I-5 Bridge replacement project. However, in addition to that, TriMet officials recently stated that there would need to be new taxes to pay for the $1.3 billion cost of the light rail extension into Vancouver.

So, essentially, this I-5 Bridge replacement project is going to include double taxes for many Washington residents.

A bridge too low

One of the many significant issues that remains to be solved in the IBR’s MLPA is the proposed 116-foot height of the replacement bridge. The U.S. Coast Guard has already informed the IBR team that any replacement bridge will need to be at least 178-feet high. That is quite a discrepancy.

This is no small matter, considering not only cost, but what type of bridge to build. The IBR team doesn’t want to propose a bridge that is too steep for light rail or for commercial trucks and traffic and building another drawbridge isn’t palatable to many as well.

Just say no!

Those are just the top issues from my list of reasons why area elected officials should be standing up and shouting at the top of their lungs to tell IBR officials to at least pause the current I-5 replacement project, if not scrap it altogether and start all over. The wasted time and money is worth preventing a bad project from being completed. 

Greg Johnson is the administrator of the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program (IBRP). Photo by IBRP
Greg Johnson is the administrator of the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program (IBRP). Photo by IBRP

In light of the fact that there are so many unanswered questions, and unsolved or outright bad elements of the proposed project, I asked IBR Administrator Greg Johnson why he and his team need a thumbs up from area elected officials and community leaders. 

His response didn’t change my mind, but I offer the full response here to allow you to decide for yourselves:

The current effort to replace the Interstate Bridge is building on decades of past work. As a regionally and nationally significant infrastructure project, the program has committed to approaching this effort as a regional partnership to find common ground and identify a solution that best balances the bi-state needs and priorities of the communities on both sides of the river, while also supporting international freight and commerce that relies on I-5. 

“Having a broad base of regional support is integral to maintaining program momentum and achieving other milestones such as permits and securing additional funding sources. The Interstate Bridge Replacement program established the Executive Steering Group (ESG) and advisory groups to ensure ongoing engagement with a broad range of stakeholders representing a variety of constituencies and priorities throughout the program development and design process. The local agency partners serving on the ESG include Tri-Met, C-TRAN, City of Vancouver, City of Portland, Port of Portland, Port of Vancouver, Metro, and the Regional Transportation Council. 

“As part of the effort (to) demonstrate regional alignment and confirm that we are headed in the right direction as we move into the environmental process, each of our local agency partners is in the process of bringing the Modified LPA to their boards or councils for endorsement over the next month. A vote from the ESG is a critical step for the program to ensure that we are headed in the right direction as we move into more detailed work. 

“Regional consensus from our local agency partners builds confidence with stakeholders at all levels that we are working together as a region to identify the best project to balance the many needs and priorities of the community and both states. This is a critical step in showing the program’s competitiveness for funding opportunities as we move forward with federal grant applications and other discussions. 

“There has been clear direction from both states that the program should utilize past work from the previous project that remains valid to maximize past investment and ensure efficient decision-making, while also taking into consideration changes since the previous planning effort. This direction has been reinforced through legislative milestones, such as the requirement for a progress report including a description of the locally preferred alternative due by Aug. 1, 2022, that was included in the recent Washington supplemental transportation budget (ESSB 5689). 

“The Modified Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA) is not the final design of the replacement bridge, but it is a key milestone that identifies the foundational elements regional partners agree should be further evaluated and tested through the environmental review process. This deeper dive will further refine the Modified LPA and help determine additional details of the multimodal corridor solution.’’

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  1. Doug

    Thank you for keeping us up to date on this critical issue. I fully agree that this current plan needs to be at least paused, if not fully rejected. Kudos to the few local elected officials who are standing up: Bowerman, Medvigy, and Lewallan. There are other reasons to oppose this plan, including the extremely low numbers of mass transit (i.e. bus) trips across both bridges, amounting to only about 3000 trips per day in the 4 pre-pandemic years of 2016-2019. This is less than 2% of the total crossings. The proposed “Locally Preferred Alternative” plans to spend $1.3B for a dedicated Light Rail lane for these few commuters. Of course, they predict the numbers of crossings will increase by 10x or more in the future, but Tri-Met has an abysmal record of making such predictions, as has been detailed by the Cascade Policy Institute (reported on by Clark County Today). I hope the Clark County Council rejects this plan at their meeting next week.

  2. K.J. Hinton

    They don’t have a “broad base of support” from anyone except elected leftists who have repeatedly proven they could care less what the people want. Elected officials from both sides (most city council electeds are fringe-leftists, for example. The RINOs who sold us out to get on that worthless committee are no better and I’d never vote for any of them that did)

    It’s pretty clear the idiot running this circus is among those who simply don’t care what the people want. If he did, he’d be demanding to put this to another vote… except, of course, they already know that most people who drive to the Portland zoo hate this idea, and it’s $2000 or so a year in tolls (to start) with a passion.

    1. Mary

      It is too bad you stopped reading. Educating yourself always makes for an informed decision. The light rail can only carry 1000 people. 60% would have to stand. 75,000 cars cross the river. Where will the users park? After rush hour, how many will use light rail?

      The idea sounds good. It works great in Chicago, New York, DC, but Vancouver to Portland ?

  3. Robert

    Oregon now is telling us that All of a sudden The I-5 bridge could fall into the river at anytime! The truth is that if a third bridge was built it would require Portland to build a road to it! And Portland doesn’t like roads they like bike lanes! The sad part is Washington politicians fell for it!

    1. Mary

      New reporting is the I-5 bridge is good for 40 more years. The boondoggle includes adding some improvements to the steel bridge, which needs replacement, expanding the Gresham storage and repair facility and a new administration building. Vancouver is being played big time.


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