The Interstate Bridge Isn’t Broken

Yesterday, Richard Leonetti had a nice piece about the Interstate Bridge Replacement Project. In case you missed it, read what Leonetti said in full here. He’s worried we’re going to see little capacity expansion on the I-5, just a light rail line.

Leonetti thus beseeches policymakers:

If we are going to spend billions let us at least solve the transportation bottleneck problem and do it with a more economically priced bridge. Please, Governor and/or Legislators, stop the dumb spending and buy us a bridge that fixes the transportation bottleneck.

I have a friendly amendment for Leonetti. Let’s spend those billions on an additional bridge rather than a replacement bridge. Why replace the Interstate Bridge at all? It’s not broken, so let’s not replace it.

Instead, the best way to relieve congestion on the I-5 at the Oregon/Washington border is to add another crossing option for the Portland metro area. For example, Highway 217 should just be extended north and have its own Columbia crossing on the west side. Call it the I-605.

This would solve two congestion problems at the same time. It would ease traffic across the Interstate Bridge, and it would relieve the constant traffic jam on Highway 26. How many people trying to pass through that tunnel just want to go north? People on the west side of Portland that want to head toward Seattle should not have to travel east for miles first and drive through north Portland.

We shouldn’t waste money tearing down a bridge with many remaining decades of useful life. We should leave the Insterstate Bridge alone and build an additional crossing of the Columbia River.

Eric Shierman lives in Salem and is the author of We were winning when I was there.