Traffic passes through Hayden Island just south of a proposed new bridge that would replace the I-5 twin bridges that now connect Oregon to Washington. A new proposal scales back the proposed new bridge from 12 lanes to 10. Photo by Jake Thomas.
I-5 crossing would be 10 lanes, not 12
After months of negotiations, Columbia River Crossing planners and residents of Hayden Island have found a solution to how the project will impact their homes. However, other issues remain to be resolved before the shovels hit the dirt on the massive public works project.
The CRC, a proposed replacement bridge on the I-5 corridor between Portland and Vancouver, has been hotly criticized for its size, design and initial price tag of $4.2 billion. Late last year, planners proposed a scaled-back version of the bridge that reduced the price tag to $3.6 billion, but also put a tangle of freeway on-and-off ramps on Hayden Island.
The interchanges would have put 22 lanes of traffic on the island, with 50 overhead structures. The proposal drew impassioned outcries that the new interchange would adversely affect the large population of seniors and home-bound people who live on the island. Residents also worried that it would make their community even more isolated and remove vital services, like nearby pharmacies that many depend on.
The new proposal, which was adopted unanimously by the CRC Projects Sponsors Council on Monday after months of work by project staff, would reduce the number of lanes to 17 as well as the overhead structures. Local access to the island would be accommodated by a bridge to the West of I-5, next to the structure carrying light rail. The revised plan would make North Tomahawk Drive a main street for the island.
Advocates of the island and CRC planners reached a consensus that was approved by the Project Sponsors Council, a group of government officials from both sides of the Columbia. The council also agreed on a 10-lane bridge, instead of 12 lanes.
During the public comment period at an Aug. 5 presentation of the changes to the project at Jantzen Beach Supercenter, there seemed to be a virtual consensus between advocates for the island and planning staff.
Matt Whitney, the chair of the Bridgeton Neighborhood Association and one of many people who spoke on behalf of the changes to Hayden Island, said that not only did his neighborhood association support the change, but so did the North Portland Neighborhood Chairs Network, a coalition of 11 chairs from north Portland neighborhoods.
“It goes a long way to support growth in north Portland,” he said.
Even Ed Garren- co-chair of the Hayden Island plan, former city council candidate, and self-described “relentless and sometimes difficult person for CRC staff”- said he supported the revisions to the plan.
Although this issue seems to be resolved, for now, others that still linger.
Steve Horenstein, the co-chair of the CRC Projects Sponsors Council who was presiding over the meeting, probably heard more about other problems people had with the bridge than Hayden Island.
A number of Vancouver business owners made it clear that they felt that tolls on the bridge would badly hurt their business. When Horenstein, who continuously had to remind participants that they were off topic, asked one man what he thought about the Hayden Island Plan after giving a diatribe about tolls.
His response: as long as they keep the Hooter’s at Jantzen Beach, he was fine with it.
Other Vancouver residents stated that they didn’t want a light rail extension into the city, citing concerns over crime and questioned if it was necessary.
In 2011, Vancouver voters will decide on measure to fund light rail to Clark County with a sales tax. A similar measure failed in 1995. If the same happens next year, it could pose a serious funding problem for the CRC.
Last month, the CRC Independent Review Panel, eight experts appointed by the governors of Washington and Oregon to review the project, released a report that argued that there are issues with the project that need to be addressed.
The 317-page report stated that the bridge was largely experimental, and would need to be continuously tested if it came to fruition, adding significantly to the cost. It also stated that tolling was necessary.
The IPR report specifically mentions that more work needs to be done on environmental justice issues concerning the bridge.
Environmental justice has a specific legal context, according to the report, and concerns low-income or minority populations that will be disproportionately or adversely impacted by the project. So far analysis on this issue has blended with “neighborhood” issues, the report states, making it much harder to gauge how these populations will be affected.
Although the CRC Project Sponsors Council voted unanimously to scale the bridge back to 10, lanes, CRC opponents are still calling for a complete redo of the project.
Garren said that despite the pleasing outcome with the Hayden Island interchange he is still concerned. He points out that much of the work on the bridge will be done next to a residential area on the island that houses many older, immobile residents who could be negatively impacted by the noise and pollution from the work on the bridge. He also worries that the existing Safeway on the island will be removed to make way for the project, leaving many residents with no way to get their medications.
However, he said that CRC staff worked transparently and collaboratively with residents, a trend he hopes will continue.