All Politics is Local

What a report on Washington state’s infrastructure had to say about Clark County

Interstate 5 bridge

A coalition of local governments and one business group has put out a report outlining the $222 billion in investments in Washington’s highways, bridges, freight rail, ports, rural broadband and energy infrastructure they say will pay dividends locally and nationally.

Guess what project the report highlighted in Clark County? Replacing the Interstate 5 bridge connecting Vancouver to Oregon, an undertaking that’s seen renewed interest between the two states.

The report — commissioned by the Association of Washington Business, Association of Washington Cities, Washington State Association of Counties and Washington Public Ports Association — calls out the antiquated bridge:

“Structure, which consists of one 102-year-old span and one 61-year-old span, is one of only six remaining draw bridges on the U.S. interstate system. As of 2016, around 135,000 vehicles and approximately $110 million in freight traffic crossed over the bridge each day.

“Worsening congestion has resulted in a 278-percent increase in travel time between Portland and Vancouver from 2011 to 2016. Upcoming capital maintenance projects such as trunnion replacement, bridge painting, and deck replacement are estimated to cost $282 million by 2040. The existing structure poses serious safety concerns; it does not meet current seismic standards and has narrow lanes, no safety shoulders, and substandard multimodal facilities. Additionally, maritime traffic on the river means the draw bridges can be lifted any time of day or night, further disrupting traffic.”

According to the report, replacing the bridge “will reduce congestion, improve safety, enhance freight access, and support the region’s long-term economic development.”

But it won’t come cheap, with the report putting the price tag to replace the bridge at $3.17 billion. The Senate Transportation Committee passed an ambitious package of bills that would have designated $450 million for a new bridge. However, the bills didn’t advance during the session.

The recently adjourned Washington Legislature dedicated $35 million to the project. The amount is a sliver of the project’s cost and is intended to signal to Oregon lawmakers that Washington is serious about replacing the bridge.  

Both the governors of Washington and Oregon support replacing the bridge. But OPB’s Lauren Dake (remember her?) reported that Oregon lawmakers still suffer from “bridge fatigue” from when the Columbia River Crossing perished in the Washington Senate in 2013:

Sen. Lee Beyer, D-Eugene, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, chuckled when he heard the $35 million figure.

“We’ll let them study it,” Beyer said of Washington lawmakers.

Later, he added, “If they want to talk, we’ll talk. But we won’t put the time and money into it. It’s their turn.”