Non-Portlanders, bear with me — this is a local issue, but it’s probably the sort of thing that may come up in your area too (or perhaps it already has).
Summary of the situation: I-5 crosses the Columbia River between Oregon and Washington. The bridge there (actually two side-by-side spans) is in need of repair/replacement/expansion due to age and increased traffic. The current Locally Preferred proposal (so designated by six local partner agencies) would “replace the existing Interstate Bridges to carry I-5 traffic, light rail, pedestrians and bicyclists across the Columbia River. The new bridges will not have a bridge lift. They will carry three through-travel lanes and up to three auxiliary lanes for entering and exiting the highway in each direction. Like today, northbound and southbound traffic would be on separate bridges.”
Problem: Naturally, not everyone agrees with this plan. Some think it will just encourage more car traffic and urban sprawl. Some think we shouldn’t bother with light rail, just cars.
Why am I thinking about this today? President Bush has just designated the I-5 bridge replacement as a high priority project, which will make it happen much faster.
What I think: I’m strongly in favor of alternative transportation. I think we need to get out of our cars — and yes, I need to do better with that, too. However, we aren’t going to eliminate all car and truck traffic. In fact, one of the main reasons for fixing the I-5 bridge problem is that I-5 is a major truck route, transporting goods up and down the west coast.
We also need to have a safe crossing for the cars, trucks and busses that are on the road. We don’t need a bridge collapsing into the Columbia River.
So, I think we do need a new bridge, along with the promised pedestrian/bike/transit upgrades. As far as preventing increased congestion and sprawl goes, I think that’s another matter entirely. We do need major lifestyle changes — but we’ve got to convince people in some other way, not by bottlenecking traffic or by allowing a bridge to fall into disrepair.
However, the issue is even more complex than that. Other potential problems include contamination of Vancouver, Washington’s drinking water resulting from bridge construction, air and noise pollution affecting residents near the construction site (many of them low income), and possible effects on endangered species of fish in the Columbia River.
After reading all of that today, I’m still somewhat reluctantly in favor of the current proposal. I think it best balances the needs of area residents. I do think the project managers should be required to take all possible measures to protect the environment and area residents, though.