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Inside Olympia — New I-5 Columbia River Bridge

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The current I-5 bridge connecting Vancouver with Portland over the Columbia River is actually two bridges — one of which, when it was built over a century ago, was traversed by horses and buggies, and was actually used to move cattle across the river.

This week on Inside Olympia, we dig into the bi-state effort to replace those aging spans with a new bridge. Our guests: Interstate Bridge Replacement Program Administrator Greg Johnson, who moved here from Michigan to oversee the project; and a bi-state legislative panel featuring Republican State Representative Paul Harris of Vancouver and Democratic State Representative Susan McLain of Forest Grove, Oregon.

The current bridges, which carry well over 100,000 vehicles every weekday, are known to be highly vulnerable in the case of an earthquake. If the bridge were to fail, 300,000 vehicles per day would have to crowd onto the I-205 bridge to cross the Columbia.

A decade ago, a previous effort to build a new bridge failed. Greg Johnson, who has a long career in transportation, says many projects get a “second bit at the apple,” but not many get a third. He, and the legislators, all spoke of the critical need for a new bridge, and the need to stay on schedule with the project.

Some key takeaways from the interviews:

The project is better envisioned as a 5-mile corridor with multiple on and off points, rather than simply a bridge.

Three design options are under consideration: a single layer span, double-layer span, and a moveable bridge similar to the current drawbridge. All designs are still on the table.

There is general agreement that the bridge include transit, though what that looks like — light rail (Portland TriMet) and/or bus rapid transit (Vancouver CTran) — and who operates it are still being discussed.

Tolls are seen as part of the bridge project, not only after the bridge is built but before. Prices in the $1.50-$3.50 range are being discussed.

Much more was discussed during the interview, the full version of which is available to watch any time online. If you want to keep up on discussions regarding the bridge, TVW covers all meetings of the Joint Oregon-Washington Legislative Action Committee. The next meeting is Tuesday Nov. 28 at 9am.