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Letter to the Editor: Suggestion for the Interstate 5 Bridge Replacement Project

Seventy-eight percent of Southwest Washington citizens’ top priority for the Interstate 5 Interstate Bridge Replacement (IBR) project is to ease traffic congestion and save time. Overall, 70% of citizens in the Portland metro area have the same priority. Yet planners and key oversight committees appear to be on the verge of approving a project that does not meet the needs and desires of the people.

According to the IBR team, by 2045 traffic congestion will double. At least 50% of rush hour vehicles will be stuck in traffic going from zero to 20 mph. In addition, travel times will double. Getting from the I-5 and Interstate 205 interchange at Salmon Creek to the Fremont Bridge will take 60 minutes, down from 29 minutes today. That’s after spending $5 billion on the IBR and another $1.5 billion on Portland’s Rose Quarter project.

Worse still, Oregon wants you to help pay for the Rose Quarter project with variable rate tolls. The IBR also recommends variable rate tolls on the replacement bridge. People will pay double the tolls to drive I-5 for work or play in Portland. They will create “roads for the rich”. Most people have no choice when they show up for work.

In the Columbia River Crossing (CRC) failure, they estimated that the $8 tolls could cost people $2,000 a year.

The current proposal is to replace the current three-lane bridge with another three-lane bridge. It’s worse than the failure of CRC because they only want one auxiliary lane for fusion and weaving. Three auxiliary lanes were on the table at one point, but lawmakers and elected officials never got a chance to say how big the bridge should be.

They also never had the choice of choosing public transit. Our C-Tran Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is cheaper, faster and can accommodate more people than Portland’s MAX Light Rail Transit. C-Tran’s BRT costs $5.44 per passenger to board versus $8.24 for MAX. A BRT bus can accommodate 60% of passengers while MAX can only accommodate 40%, leaving the majority standing. The MAX Yellow Line only travels 14 mph while the C-Tran express buses travel nearly double that speed.

The failing CRC was a “bridge too low”. The currently proposed clearance of 116 feet for marine traffic is about to be rejected by the Coast Guard – another bridge too low.

The IBR team implies that they cannot build higher than 116 feet. Administrator Greg Johnson told lawmakers a “moving span” could cost $400 million, an attempt to scare them off with a huge price tag. The I-205 bridge has 144 feet of clearance.

The defaulting CRC would pay $86.4 million in “mitigation” to three upstream companies that need clearances up to 150 feet. Adjusted for inflation, the mitigation costs now exceed $100 million of taxpayers’ money.

Here is a suggestion. Eliminate the $1.3 billion MAX light rail extension. Choose a $50 million C-Tran BRT line, save $1.25 billion and build a higher bridge. Or they can use some of the savings to add a “moving span”.

John Ley,