New I-5 bridge over Columbia River gets OK

Plans to replace the aging Interstate 5 Columbia River Crossing Bridges and build an interstate transit link can move forward following a “record of decision” that represents the final clearance of the project’s environmental review that allows Oregon and Washington to begin right-of-way acquisition and construction, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced Dec. 7.

The Columbia River Crossing project will replace the I-5 bridges over the Columbia River that connect Vancouver, Wash., to Portland, Ore. At a cost of about $3 billion for bridge, transit and highway improvements, the project is considered a long-term solution to address safety and congestion problems on five miles of I-5 from State Route 500 in Vancouver to Victory Boulevard in Portland. It will be funded through state and federal sources.

The current I-5 crossing of the Columbia River consists of two side-by-side bridges. The bridge carrying northbound traffic was built in 1916, and the bridge carrying southbound traffic was built in 1958. Both bridges are inadequate to carry the current traffic volumes, and the mechanical lift spans that are raised to accommodate river traffic bring interstate traffic to a standstill. The geometry of the bridges makes the existing crossing one of the most unsafe highway locations on the I-5 corridor – its crash rate is double that of similar bridges. In addition, the bridge does not meet the current bridge design standards for earthquakes.

Freight congestion is one of the key reasons behind the bridge replacement project. I-5 is the most important freight freeway on the West Coast linking international, national and regional markets in Canada, Mexico and the Pacific Rim with destinations throughout the western United States.

Freight volumes moved by truck to and from the area are projected to increase over the years, causing additional delays and cost to shippers. Currently, the bridge serves nearly 130,000 vehicles daily with travel demand expected to grow to 180,000 vehicles daily by 2030.