The project to replace the aging Interstate 5 bridge over the Columbia River may see some additional funding opportunities at the federal level because of Congress’ $1.2 trillion infrastructure package.
During a press event near the banks of the Columbia River in Vancouver on April 13, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell spoke about the impacts of recently-defined funding for the Interstate Bridge Replacement Project, which is an ongoing effort to revamp the I-5 corridor which currently relies on a bridge span more than a century old.
The event took place overlooking the river as trains passed nearby, planes were seen overhead and vehicles crossed the bridge, providing a sonic backdrop of the transportation nexus the area has become.
Cantwell’s visit also included a tour of the bridge. She climbed up scaffolds and ladders, buffeted by rain. Cantwell was there specifically to speak about the federal government’s recent announcement of criteria for the Megaprojects Grant Program. Part of the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the $5 billion for the grant program is available for costly projects with regional significance.For Congress, Cantwell said the I-5 bridge replacement is “so much the ideal of what we have in mind for infrastructure improvement.” She cited recent statistics that show 143,000 passengers and 13,000 freight trucks cross the bridge daily, and data from the American Transportation Research Institute which shows the bridge as the fourth-worst bottleneck for truck traffic on the West Coast and 33rd worst in the nation.
“Without the investments, we’re going to see a continued slowdown of commuters, of freight, and see serious safety issues,” Cantwell said. “The need to replace this bridge is clear and we have momentum.”
Cantwell said the bridge replacement is the “poster child” for the Megaprojects Grant Program.
The senator said the criteria for the funding includes projects that sit on a national freight network, include freight and intermodal components, increase efficiency of movement and freight and improve multimodal access.
“It just so happens that this project meets practically all of the criteria that is laid out in the program,” Cantwell said.
Cantwell also noted the project could receive funding from the $12 billion allocated for the federal Bridge Investment Program. That criteria will be released in May, though the project meets the general outline provided.
Most recently, the bridge replacement project has received a commitment at the state level, as the Washington Legislature earmarked $1 billion in funding for the project in their latest session.
While identifying funding sources, IBRP Administrator Greg Johnson said the project itself has spent considerable effort in hearing from and working with stakeholders on both sides of the river and at different levels to craft a replacement plan that everyone can agree on. After he was hired on for the project in 2020, Johnson and other project staff have facilitated meetings and outreach efforts in order to devise a replacement that meets the needs of the impacted communities.
“We know that this is a complex project, and in order for it to be successful, we have to have regional alignment around the ideas before we can go to Washington D.C. to ask for money,” Johnson said.
Johnson noted project staff will present a “locally preferred alternative” to the Joint Oregon-Washington Legislative Action Committee in June.
One of the stakeholders involved with the project is Sam Kim, an IBRP Community Advisory Group member and a Brush Prairie resident.
A “supercommuter” who works in Hillsboro, Kim said he has a three-hour daily commute — which following a return to the office after the height of the COVID-19 pandemic — has become all too familiar. He said one of the two places with the most congestion he encounters on the commute is the I-5 bridge.
“On the behalf of the 70,000 supercommuters, let’s get this bridge built,” Kim said.
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It is hard to understand the concept of "replacing" the Interstate Bridges. The concept of a tunnel to carry I-5 under the river was summarily dismissed by the bridge replacement commission (the commission's name says it all). Did anyone ever hear about the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, or the many tunnels under the Hudson and East Rivers in NY City? Tunnels are not rocket science and can be done if the ambition is there. An Interstate Tunnel would not displace real estate and would allow those venerable Interstate Bridges to revert to a local-use thoroughfare. Portland's Hawthorne Bridge was built at the same time (and by the same builder) as the original Interstate Bridge. It was rebuilt decades ago at a cost of $20m and will serve for many decades to come (as could the I-5 bridges as well).
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