Editorial: Replace the Interstate 5 Bridge Over the Columbia River

Editorial: Replace the Interstate 5 bridge over the Columbia River

By Seattle Times Editorial Staff, June 3, 2013, Seattle Times

Replace the obsolete Interstate 5 bridge over the Columbia River with modern transportation links between Washington and Oregon and the rest of the West Coast economy.

State lawmakers need to act on the Columbia River Crossing project. Now.

The bridge proposal has been studied, poked and prodded for years. Half a decade has passed since plans were endorsed by the Vancouver and Portland city councils, the Southwest Washington Regional Transportation Council, Metro regional government, C-Tran and TriMet.

The federal government will pay $850 million of the $3.9 billion project. The Oregon Legislature anted up $450 million, contingent on the Washington Legislature doing the same.

This state’s share is factored into a 10-cent-per-gallon increase in the gas tax, part of a proposed transportation-revenue package. Drivers directly benefit from investments in maintaining roads and highways and modernizing bridges.

The Columbia River Crossing represents a dramatic improvement over the aged spans between the two states. Here is the official description:

“The replacement crossing will have two bridge structures to carry a total of five vehicle lanes in each travel direction (three lanes of through traffic and two lanes for merging/diverging traffic) and full safety shoulders.

The southbound bridge will carry light rail traffic under the highway; the lower deck of the northbound bridge will carry a wide bicycle and pedestrian pathway.”

The U.S. Coast Guard makes a final call on bridge height, which has bumped up from 95 feet to 116 feet. The agency is in the midst of a 45-day comment period and holding public meetings in Vancouver and Portland.

This 116-foot profile works for light rail, general aviation and almost all navigation. The last few local companies worried about bridge clearances report progress on mitigating their concerns.

A key feature of the new bridge is light rail into Vancouver from Portland’s extensive MAX system. Washington commuters already ride MAX from a heavily used park-and-ride on the Oregon side.

Light rail moves commuters, takes cars off the road and helps improve traffic flow.

The topic gets muddied with talk of Washington state taking on TriMet debt and pensions. Not so. Even more curious is talk about light rail allowing those urban Portland people to somehow taint Vancouver.

Washington state has a pragmatic opportunity to share costs for a basic link in the transportation system that helps power the state economy.

Affordable, overdue progress comes down to the Washington Legislature not fumbling away an opportunity.

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