Columbia River Crossing
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Columbia River Crossing
Conceptual illustration for a possible deck truss bridge, seen from the southeast
|Named for||Columbia River|
|Preceded by||Interstate Bridge|
|Construction cost||$175 million|
The Columbia River Crossing (CRC) was a joint freeway megaproject from 2005 to 2013 between Oregon and Washington, which proposed to widen and modernize Interstate 5 where it crossed the Columbia River. Central to this was the replacement of the Interstate Bridge, a pair of through-truss bridges. The northbound bridge dates to 1917, and its nearly identical companion was opened in 1958 to carry southbound traffic. The bridges, the earlier of which pre-dates the U.S. Highway System by nine years, served as the crossing for U.S. Route 99 before the establishment of the Interstate Highway System and Interstate 5 as the new route number. Each of the current bridges currently has three traffic lanes and no emergency lanes. Each bridge also has a vertical-lift draw bridge span on the Washington State side of the river to allow shipping traffic access upriver.
The CRC was intended to be a safer, more modern bridge, with greater capacity, including light rail to directly connect with the regional MAX system. It would also have replaced or modified seven freeway interchanges south of SR-500. "Project partners" included the Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Transit Administration, cities of Vancouver and Portland, the Southwest Washington Regional Transportation Council, Metro, and transit agencies C-Tran and TriMet. Other agencies were involved as part of "task forces," but the project was blocked July 2013 by Republican opposition within the Washington State Senate.
A draft environmental impact statement (EIS) was published in May 2008, with a final EIS published in the Federal Register on September 23, 2011. While first said to begin in 2010, the CRC team later said construction would not begin until late 2014. The EIS was produced at a cost of $105 million, over five times the original estimate, and was delivered 18 months behind schedule. The ongoing project planning costs $1 million per month. Planners say the construction phase would last five to seven years. Official cost estimates for a phased build-out were $2.8 billion, down from earlier estimates of $3.5 billion. The CRC finance plan called for tolling to pay for up to $1.3 billion of the cost.
In May 2011, a critic estimated a range of probable cost of $3.1 to $10 billion for five miles of highway and transit work, to include a double-deck truss bridge with ten lanes for auto traffic on the top deck, with public transportation, bicycles and pedestrians below. Concerns about the tolling plan have been raised by state treasurers of both Oregon and Washington. A report by Oregon Treasurer Ted Wheeler found that "key assumptions in the traffic and toll revenue forecast used in the 2008 [Draft Environmental Impact Statement] are now outdated", and says that tolling will result in up to $598 million less than predicted earlier. The report cited problems raised by two independent studies. While the CRC predicts ever increasing traffic, Robert Bain of London firm RB Consult Ltd. calls that into question, noting that "traffic volumes using the I-5 Bridge have flattened-off over the last 15-20 years; well before the current recessionary period. The clear inference is that the flattening-off is a long-term traffic trend; not simply a manifestation of recent circumstances". A second consulting firm said that "employment growth projections by IHS Global Insight and by Moody's Analytics are significantly lower than those utilized in the [Draft Environmental Impact Statement] process". Traffic leveling off and employment growth less than half that predicted by the CRC combine to cause problems with the finance plan.
A 2012 survey found that 52% of Portland drivers and 77% of Clark County drivers would divert to I-205 to avoid paying a toll on I-5. The Sightline Institute says that tolling should begin immediately so that planners have real-world data on how many trips would divert to I-205 to avoid an I-5 toll.
Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber introduced a bill for the 2013 legislature (H.B. 2260) which gives the state authority to raise money for the project via tolling; in the bill the project is referred to as "The Interstate 5 Bridge Replacement Program" rather than the CRC, a rebranding noted by local and national journalists.
The CRC megaproject was subject to at least three lawsuits. Thompson Metal Fab in Vancouver sued over the limited bridge height which they say will hurt their company's competitiveness. Residents of Hayden Island filed suit, claiming failure to properly examine negative air quality impacts and impacts to low income residents (some living as close as 50 feet from the project). The Coalition for a Livable Future, Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods, and Northwest Environmental Defense Center challenged the federal agencies [FHWA and FTA] responsible for the CRC megaproject, based on concerns that the megaproject failed to consider even a basic analysis of key environmental issues, and said that the CRC failed to include a reasonable range of alternatives, instead creating a false choice between two extremes.
If built, the construction on Hayden Island was expected to last over five years, and impacts would include the forcible acquisition and demolition of 35 floating homes, along with 39 businesses employing 600 people.
Of approximately $227 million allocated, the project had spent $175 million by the end of April 2013, much of it on pre-construction testing of subsurface conditions, which may or may not be useful in the future. The project was terminated after the Washington State Senate failed to approve $450 million in funding, with key opponent Ann Rivers of La Center, Washington suggesting alternative measures such as eliminating lane changes and lowering the speed limit on the bridge. One common objection from opponents was the inclusion of light rail. 
In August 2013 a group of business leaders and other submitted a proposal to governors Inslee and Kitzhaber which would reduce total cost to $2.75 billion, avoiding the need for Washington's immediate contribution by eliminating modifications to all but one interchange north of the river. In September, Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber made a proposal to the Oregon State Legislature for them to consider an Oregon-led project, which the Oregon Department of Justice found legal.  Treasurer Ted Wheeler noted that any progress was likely dependent on an acceptable tolling plan, light-rail operational funding and Coast Guard approval and two of these were approved within days.
Although there was not a special legislative session to consider the proposal, they appointed a 24-member committee to review a "revised, Oregon-only plan."
On March 7, the Oregon Legislature adjourned without reinstating construction funds for the CRC I-5 Bridge Replacement project. The project office was officially closed down on May 31, 2014, with related documents and plans archived in case the project is ever revived.
- Jaquiss, Nigel (May 1, 2008). "A Bridge Over The River Why?". Willamette Week. Retrieved January 26, 2013.
- Bernton, Hal (July 1, 2013). "State Senate deadlock kills Columbia Crossing". The Seattle Times. Retrieved July 2, 2013.
- Johnson, Kirk (July 17, 2013). "Washington and Oregon Cities Try to Evade Political Jam to Build a Bridge". The New York Times. p. A12. Retrieved July 17, 2013.
- Damewood, Andrea (June 19, 2012). "Start of major construction on CRC delayed until late 2014; Project confronts 'funding realities'". The Columbian. Retrieved January 26, 2013.
- Jaquiss, Nigel (October 26, 2011). "The Runaway Bridge; Budget State transportation officials stood by as planning costs for the Interstate 5 Columbia River Crossing ballooned". Willamette Week. Retrieved February 5, 2013.
- Rivera, Dylan (July 23, 2009). "I-5 bridge studies span $65 million and counting". Oregonian. Retrieved May 6, 2013.
- Florip, Eric (April 23, 2013). "Report gives new CRC cost picture: Decrease to $2.8B from $3.5B reflects decision to build in phases". The Columbian. p. A1.
- Florip, Eric (January 19, 2013). "Highway money uncertain for CRC; If federal funding, part of the plans for years, falls through, states get the bill". The Columbian. Retrieved January 28, 2013.
- Rose, Joseph (October 15, 2010). "New study warns Columbia River Crossing could cost $10 billion". The Oregonian. Retrieved January 23, 2013.
- Manning, Jeff (July 19, 2011). "Traffic estimates on Columbia River Crossing further muddy the financial picture". The Oregonian. Retrieved January 28, 2013.
- Jaquiss, Nigel (July 20, 2011). "BREAKING: Treasurer's Report Blows Major Hole in CRC Finance Plan". Willamette Week. Retrieved January 28, 2013.
- Rose, Joseph (November 30, 2012). "Most Portland, Vancouver drivers would dodge Columbia River Crossing's Interstate 5 tolls, poll finds". The Oregonian. Retrieved January 28, 2013.
- Jaquiss, Nigel (June 20, 2012). "The Toll Under the Bridge; Seattle's experience shows the CRC's projections are flimsier than ever". Willamette Week. Retrieved January 28, 2013.
- Maus, Jonathan (January 24, 2013). "CRC update: Kitzhaber drops "CRC" moniker, activists heat up". BikePortland.org. Retrieved January 29, 2013.
- Jaquiss, Nigel (January 23, 2013). "Pay Up or Shut Up; Lawmakers' first order of business: Find $450 million for a rebranded CRC project". Willamette Week. Retrieved January 29, 2013.
- Schmitt, Angie (January 25, 2013). "Portland Mega-Highway Backers Resort to "Rebranding"". StreetsBlog. Retrieved January 29, 2013.
- "Hayden Island residents sue Columbia River Crossing". The Columbian. July 14, 2012. Retrieved January 29, 2013.
- Manvel, Evan (July 2, 2012). "Breaking: Neighbors, Environmentalists Bring Lawsuit Against Costly, Risky CRC Mega-Project". BlueOregon. Retrieved January 29, 2013.
- Manning, Jeff (September 24, 2011). "At Hayden Island interchange, the Columbia River Crossing will cast a huge footprint". The Oregonian. Retrieved January 30, 2013.
- Read, Richard (July 5, 2013). "Bridge Funds to Nowhere: Some of the $175 million in work for the now-defunct Columbia River Crossing might be useful someday, but much of it is just gone". The Oregonian. p. A1. Retrieved July 5, 2013.
- Mathieu, Steve (July 1, 2013). "Officials adjust focus to a future bridge replacement". The Columbian. Retrieved July 2, 2013.
- Mapes, Jeff (July 2, 2013). "What killed the Columbia River Crossing? A razor-thin Senate election last November". The Oregonian. Retrieved July 2, 2013.
- Florip, Eric (August 8, 2013). "Slimmer CRC Plan Sent to Governors". page A1. The Columbian. Retrieved August 8, 2013.
- Gaston, Christian (September 25, 2013). "Oregon would set tolls for Washington under revived Columbia River Crossing". The Oregonian. Retrieved September 27, 2013.
- Gaston, Christian (September 13, 2013). "Attorney General: Oregon-led Columbia River Crossing would pass legal muster". The Oregonian. Retrieved September 27, 2013.
- Gaston, Christian (September 26, 2013). "Oregon Treasurer says more work needed to revive Columbia River Crossing". The Oregonian. Retrieved September 27, 2013.
- Florip, Eric (September 26, 2013). "C-Tran board approves light rail financing plan". The Columbian. Retrieved September 27, 2013.
- Florip, Eric (September 27, 2013). "Coast Guard approves CRC bridge permit". The Columbian. Retrieved September 27, 2013.
- Brown, Craig (October 26, 2013). "Oregon leaders appoint CRC hearings panel". The Columbian. Retrieved October 28, 2013.
- "ODOT announces plans to close down Columbia River Crossing Project". March 7, 2014.