The Columbia River Crossing, a joint venture between the Washington and Oregon departments of transportation, was recently cancelled. The project would have replaced the pair of Interstate 5 bridges, built in 1917 and and 1958, rebuilt several highway interchanges north and south of the Columbia River, included pedestrian and bicycle paths, and integrated the extension of a light rail line from Portland to Vancouver. In June the Washington State Senate failed to pass a transportation package that would have included partial funding, $450 million that matched Oregon’s contribution, for the $3.4 billion project.
The primary motives behind the project were congestion and safety. According to the CRC website, the five-mile project area sees up to 400 collisions per year because of poor safety features, high traffic volumes, and sudden stops during bridge lifts to allow shipping traffic through. The bridges carry about 130,000 vehicles per day already and are a major freight route. The pedestrian walkway is only four feet wide (compared to a ten foot standard) and bus service is limited by the same congestion. Additionally, the bridges are not built to modern seismic standards and may suffer significant damage in the region’s next major earthquake.
The project had been in the works for almost a decade, which was plenty of time for both support and opposition to develop arguments. Defenders of the project touted the economic benefits of reduced congestion and improved safety, while detractors pointed to outdated traffic forecasts and affordable seismic upgrades. Opponents also pointed out that a tolling option for discouraging single-occupancy commutes could be applied to the current bridges, and widening the highway would displace many homes and businesses on Hayden Island.
An alternative project would modify a railroad bridge just upstream of the bridges to allow ships to maneuver more easily under a higher section of the Interstate Bridge. Conservatives on the north side of the river also criticized the plans for including a MAX yellow line extension, with State Senator Don Benton (R-Vancouver) saying it drove up project costs and more public transit was unwanted. However, the light rail stops in Vancouver would have been managed by Portland’s TriMet, not an agency funded by Washington taxpayers, and would have had minimal presence in that city.
There is still a sliver of hope left for the project, which has cost $170 million so far and is still awaiting a Coast Guard permit relating to ship clearance; Oregon planners are evaluating other funding options before that state’s $450 million commitment expires and effectively kills the project until the bridge replacements are inevitably needed in the future.