By Greg Stiles, July 2, 2013, Medford Mail Tribune
The Columbia River bottleneck on Interstate 5 isn’t going away any time soon, adding additional pressure on Jackson County truck drivers and transportation companies.
Washington’s state Senate last weekend declined to match Oregon’s financial commitment for a new bridge over the Columbia River, effectively killing the latest effort to improve one of the West Coast’s weakest transportation links.
State business leaders and Gov. John Kitzhaber both made it clear funding Oregon’s share of the Columbia River Crossing project was a top-rung objective during the 2013 Legislative session, along with fixing PERS and shoring up public education.
The Legislature put its stamp of approval on the project, allocating $450 million toward the $3.5 billion project, which would have been largely paid for by federal funds. But absent Washington’s blessing and its $450 million share, the I-5 drawbridge will continue to snarl traffic for years to come.
“I was kind of disappointed,” said Mike Card, president of Combined Transport in Central Point. “Our goal was to eliminate or reduce the amount of delays and congestion going through Portland. The jury was still out on how much it was going to fix the problem, but at least it was something.”
The present I-5 bridges connecting Portland and Vancouver were built in 1917 and 1958. Years of wrangling over the design, capacity and inclusion of light rail and pedestrian elements appeared coming together until Saturday.
“In the short run, it’s a huge inconvenience for the trucking companies and adds to their costs,” Card said. “It will hurt asset and driver utilization. In the long run, it will cost all consumers more money because we will have to pass along our costs somehow.”
Mark Gibson, president of Siskiyou Transportation, said putting off work on the crossing will only worsen matters.
“I-5 is the corridor between Canada and Mexico; just look at what happened when the bridge (over the Skagit River) fell in,” Gibson said. “It’s already an incredible bottleneck. As you look up and down I-5 in terms of what needs infrastructure improvement, it’s way up there.”
Ultimately, he said, the cost pulled the project under.
“They didn’t fund it, because it was so darn expensive,” Gibson said. “We’re going to have to do something, somewhere in the Portland area and figure out a way to fund it. To a certain extent, that may mean limiting it to road improvements. Rail, bikes and pedestrians are all part of transportation, but we’re living in a day that everyone has to look at what we can afford to spend.”
Jumping on I-205, just north of Wilsonville, and crossing near the airport doesn’t solve the problem, Card said.
“If you’re trying to get to Seattle, you’re looking at an hour or two delay because of the congestion,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you are trying to make a delivery in Portland or not.”
Industry data suggest truckers can count on a two-hour delay going through the Portland metro area.
“If the (I-5) bridge has to be raised it could even be worse,” Card said. “If everybody goes to 205, you still have delays.”
Taking Highway 30 west to Rainier and crossing the Columbia at Longview, he said, “would be worse.”
Years of debate, millions spent in planning for a new bridge with no result doesn’t settle well with Troy Hutchens, president of FV Martin Trucking.
“Quite honestly, I think the whole thing is a mess,” Hutchens said. “The states of Oregon and Washington ought to go to Minnesota and find out how they were able to build the bridge over the Mississippi River so quickly after it collapsed (in 2007). I think they spent more money, or pretty darn close, trying to figure out how to build the one in Portland than they spent to build the new one in Minnesota.”