After $200 million taxpayer dollars were spent on the botched Columbia River Crossing bridge project, tensions are high around the debate to add another bridge connecting Oregon and Washington. A new advisory vote, Resolution 2014-07-27, is on the ballot this year that will open the discussion for a toll-free bridge east of I-205.
Many in the trucking industry are desperate for a solution to the six or more hours per day of gridlock along the two existing routes connecting Portland and Vancouver.
“We’re on bridges and highways that were built for traffic in the 50s or 60s,” said truck dispatcher Jeff Powers. “It does cost a lot of money, but you can’t just ignore the problem and hope that goes away.”
Powers, dispatcher for Joel Olson Trucking, has worked in the industry for 26 years and welcomes the congestion relief a third bridge would bring. The last bridge in the area was constructed 31 years ago (the Glenn Jackson Bridge on I-205).
Port of Vancouver Commissioner Jerry Oliver explains that the new bridge would allow trucks to exit I-205 headed east to Multnomah County, lessening the traffic on the existing bridges.
“It would be a great positive,” said Oliver. “It would add a third of lane capacity to the current 12 lanes that cross the Columbia [River]. We need a third bridge, and a fourth bridge.”
Oliver notes that the proposed bridge would add four lanes, with the potential to be restriped to six lanes. But drivers shouldn’t get ready to change their commutes any time soon.
“It’s an advisory vote,” explained Oliver. “Voting yes or no just means that the County Commission, if it gets a strong reading from the advisory vote, would open the discussion.”
The new bridge would contractually receive all permits and be constructed five years from lawmaker approval. But that’s little solace for John Rudi, president and owner of Thompson Metal Fab, who depends on freight trucks for all his supplies.
“I think it’s a distraction,” said Rudi. “They’ve been doing studies on congestion and growth and the I-5 corridor is where the congestion is and that’s where the focus should be.”
Rudi believes it is “deceiving” when people say this bridge is a cheaper alternative because the comparison is not “apples to apples” since lawmakers and businesses aren’t exactly sure how the potential east county bridge would be a transportation alternative for Portland and Clark County businesses.
Rudi proposes that the 10 years of research, study and community outreach paired with the $200 million dollars spent and two permits obtained be revisited and that the I-5 bridge alternative project be reopened.
“To me, it’s foolish for the two states to walk away when the problem didn’t go away,” he said. “In fact, it’s just getting worse.”
But truckers and dispatchers like Powers welcome discussion about any bridge to help ease the pain so many in the freight industry fight daily.
“Whether or not there is a toll bridge or a free bridge, something needs to be done,” said Powers. “People move in; companies move in. There are more and more cars and trucks on the road.”
Powers cites the wasted time truck drivers spend in traffic. Because of the stringent laws on how many hours truckers can work, every extra minute becomes ever more valuable.
“I know that nobody wants to spend money on infrastructure,” said Powers. “It’s not glamorous, but it’s so necessary.”