The final two groups to approve early plans for the Interstate 5 bridge voted to move the process forward on Thursday. It was a major win for the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program that will move the plans, called the locally preferred modified alternative, into the environmental testing phase.
The two groups that voted, the Regional Transportation Council and the Oregon Metro Council, showed a big difference in bridge issues. The Metro Council’s concerns were primarily about climate change and equity, and the Regional Transportation Councils’ concerns were about light rail.
Each group has its own terms of approval which the program will address in the coming months. With the endorsements, the path is clear for the program to seek federal funding for the project, which is currently underway.
“In addition to the endorsements from our other program partners this week, this is, once again, a strong demonstration of the collaboration and cooperation that drives the IBR program forward,” said Greg Johnson, the administrator of the program.
Regional Transport Council
The Regional Transportation Board voted 10 to 3 with one abstention to approve the locally preferred modified alternative. The three opponents of the plans, Gary Medvigy, Leslie Lewallen and Karen Bowerman, were the most vocal opponents of light rail.
The three, along with Tom Lannen, who later voted to approve the plans, attempted to remove any mention of light rail from the plan documents because Clark County voters opposed taxing the light rail in the past.
“I don’t think voters here in Clark County want light rail transit, and I want to express that I hope the desires of voters that they don’t get and don’t pay will be accommodated. not for a bridge that they don’t have ‘I don’t want,’” Medvigy said.
The Regional Transportation Board manages the property and business affairs of the Clark County area and beyond to adopt a regional transportation plan, select and allocate grants in accordance with federal and state laws, among other responsibilities. The council is made up of 15 members from various governments, organizations and interest groups.
Oregon Metro Board
The Oregon Metro Council voted 6 to 1 to approve the locally preferred modified alternative after hearing more than 10 people testify against the project due to climate change, funding and other issues.
Mary Nolan of the Metro Council was the only person to vote against moving the bridge projects forward due to environmental and financial concerns.
“For too long…we’ve stood idly by and said this river is a dividing line,” Councilor Christine Lewis said. “And we have to get past that because our economy won’t grow. Our equity and climate goals can only advance if we understand what Vancouver means to Portland and what Portland means to Vancouver.
The group saw 20 people testify about the replacement of the bridge – nine more than at the Portland City Council meeting – with many expressing concern about its environmental impact, funding, budget and the choice of a tall bridge.
“If you were given $5 billion to create a project that would address seismic, climate and economic concerns, is that really the project you would end up with?” said Adah Crandall, a leader of Portland Youth Climate Strike.
Oregon Metro works with businesses, communities and residents of the Portland metro area to address growth, infrastructure and development issues that cross jurisdictional boundaries.
Although all eight partner agencies voted in favor of the locally preferred modified alternative, much of the final design has yet to be decided. The width, length, height, type of deck and whether it will be side by side or stacked is still being worked out.
“We are still in the conceptual phase of the design. The bridge is 2% design,” said Margi Bradway, deputy director of planning, development and research at Metro.
Final design is scheduled for mid-2025, with construction beginning by the end of 2025. Construction is expected to take five to seven years.
Over the next year and a half, the project will carry out environmental assessment and design improvements. It will produce a supplemental environmental impact statement, toll and revenue study, financial analysis, while soliciting public input and arranging a 45-day comment period.
“We’ll take about a year and a half to dig in, to do more design details, to test all the things in the locally preferred alternative and make sure they take this bridge into the future and keep it running,” Johnson said. said.
The Interstate Bridge Replacement Program will not start from scratch, however. They will build on the environmental impact statement that was developed when the Columbia River Crossing project failed, looking at everything that has changed in the project area over the past decade.
“It’s a very normative process,” Johnson said. “It’s a process owned by the federal government, we need to have public hearings, we’ll have public meetings around this. It’s going to be a very intense time.”