A New Interstate Bridge

There are renewed talks now between Oregon and Washington State officials about replacing the venerable and frankly, ancient Interstate Bridge. The previous effort was called the CRC Project (Columbia River Crossing). This turned into a giant debacle with an unreasonably expensive proposal.

Oregon was demanding that MAX light rail be part of the project, a self serving desire that runs counter to convincing elections in Clark County against MAX. Light rail or some other rapid transit system will likely be a part of any new bridge project, see “Light Rail in the Couv” here.

The upcoming project discussions will likely be contentious at times as Portland and Vancouver have different agendas. But we can all agree the days of the current bridge are numbered.


Circa 1917, Wikipedia Image

The original span (currently the north bound lanes of Interstate 5) was built from 1915-1916 and opened for traffic on February 14th, 1917. This according to Wikipedia replaced an overcrowded ferry system operated by Pacific Railway, Light & Power Co. The lift section was designed to allow larger river vessels to navigate underneath and was crucial to the effectiveness of Vancouver’s WWII ship production at Kaiser Shipyards which is upriver from the span.

In 1958 the second span opened to the public becoming the south bound lanes of the “new” Interstate 5 freeway that became officially a full connection between Mexico and Canada.

The bridge remained the only crossing point between Vancouver and Portland until the Glen Jackson Bridge opened in 1982 completing the Interstate 205 “bypass.”

CRC Project:

CRC Concept, Wikipedia Image

I don’t want to spend too much time on the beleaguered CRC project that wasted tens of millions of tax payer dollars between 2005 and 2013. At one point the project was to become a gargantuan 10 lane bridge with MAX train rail and massive improvements to both the Oregon and Vancouver approaches. The bill busted out over the top of $4 billion. Besides the bloated price tag, the bridge was awful ugly. Oregon of course didn’t care much about the looks as one need only drive to Hayden Island to see that Portland isn’t interested in that section of their city. But Vancouver has invested millions and soon to be BILLIONS of dollars into the renovation of the Downtown core and the spectacular waterfront. We must make sure that the new bridge whatever it is have positive aesthetic value.

A New Interstate Bridge:

As of 4/21/2022 when the Columbian published an article stating the new bridge commission has elected to extend light rail from Portland into Vancouver, some of the commentary below is rendered moot.

The new project should focus on 8 lanes of vehicle traffic and some sort of rapid transit connection. There are still those that would prefer a 3rd span and that is not entirely a bad idea, but in the end it would be more expensive because the Interstate bridge at the very least needs a major seismic upgrade. Also it seems silly to still be doing bridge lifts for marine traffic on I-5.

I am certainly not afraid of adding lanes to a congested highway, but in this case with the Oregon/Portland plan for I-5 and the addition of some sort of light rail / rapid bus line a ten lane bridge is unnecessary and not really usable. Portland is unlikely to widen I-5 to more than it’s current 6 lanes plus auxiliary ramp lanes.

I would estimate that half of the congestion on the Interstate Bridge right now is due specifically to its age and design not how many lanes it has. The approaches to the bridge are ancient with tight corners and short merge ramps. Just fixing the approaches would alleviate a great deal of the congestion. adding some form of high capacity transit will also relieve congestion.

This new bridge needs to have some serious attention to the aesthetics. No, it doesn’t need to be an expensive cable suspended bridge. It does however, need an elegant design or at least a faux cable motif to add character and/or pleasing architectural elements. This must be DEMANDED by locals as this will have a major impact on Vancouver’s emerging waterfront and downtown revitalization efforts that are going so very well. Here’s an idea, keep one span for use as a light rail line and bikes/pedestrians. Then create the new span as a true Interstate highway bridge.