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  • Brent Hennrich

Washington's Southern Border

The Southern border of the United States is a complicated issue, but many of the residents of Washington's 3rd Congressional district are more concerned with the Southern Border of Washington

It has been referred to as the "third rail" of Washington's politics, and contrasting opinions abound, but it NEEDS TO BE DISCUSSED! What am I talking about? The I-5 Bridge Replacement Project. This project's need and benefits are not just limited to the Vancouver/Portland metroplex.

"As the only continuous north-south interstate on the West Coast between Mexico and Canada, I-5 is a vital trade route for regional, national and international economies. With one span now over 100 years old, it is at risk for collapse in the event of a major earthquake and no longer satisfies the needs of modern commerce and travel." Source

It is not exaggeration to say that anything which impedes that traffic is bad for our state as well as our Nation. Sadly, like much of our infrastructure, it has become "long in the tooth" yet remains a vital corridor.

  • First span constructed in 1917

  • Second span constructed in 1958 under the Interstate system created by the Federal-Aid Highway Act

  • Crossings in 2018/19 exceeded 138K (record high years)

  • Average weekday crossings in 2020 were 120+K (the pandemic saw a drop in crossings)(Source)

Being heavily utilized and depended upon, the reasons supporting replacement are clear.

  • Growing travel demand and congestion

  • Seismic vulnerability

  • Safety concerns as a result of existing roadway design

  • Impaired freight movement

  • Inadequate bicycle and pedestrian facilities

  • Limited public transportation

In 2012, calls to replace the bridge resulted in the Columbia River Crossing (CRC) project, with costs estimated to start at $3.4 billion. In 2013, Washington's legislature declined to authorize the funding. Without replacement, maintenance costs for the existing bridge are at least $1.2 million annually, split between ODOT and WSDOT. These costs are expected to be over $280 million through the year 2040, not including seismic retrofits Also, those maintenance costs fail to address many of the needs that support replacement. All of the justifications for replacement embrace the growth occurring now and expected to continue in the future. In light of that, the I-5 Interstate Bridge Replacement Program (2019) began with both WA and OR dedicating funds and directing WSDOT and ODOT to jointly lead the process. I have many concerns about this project. I agree with everyone who sees the actual need to replace the bridge - not just for today, but the future needs of the metroplex. I believe that we can expect real risks associated with deferring to the next generation. There are lurking dangers not just associated with age but also with its lack of earthquake protection systems. Like many, I am concerned with who is fiscally responsible. There is no doubt the people of WA-03 would benefit. The same can be said of Portland residents and the rest of Oregon's population. The very fact that this crossing was included in the new Interstate system says very clearly that it serves more than just two cities or two states. The impacts of a collapse or disrepairs resulting in a safety closure of the older span would be felt up and down the Pacific coast. Lumber industries rely on this vital corridor - the effects a closure would cause would be felt in lumber costs to consumers and the paychecks of timber industry employees. The condition of this bridge reaches across our nation's commerce, and much of it flows right the the heart of Washington's Third. I firmly believe this project should be funded by Congress as a vital Federal Interstate project. Replacement funded strictly off of a bond issue in Washington and Oregon, and the tolls which that would incur, puts an unfair burden on our cities and states. As I have stated, we are not the only beneficiaries of replacement. It is an essential part of a Federal Interstate because it is vital for north to south commercial traffic spanning the entire Pacific Coast , effectively connecting the Pacific Coast with Mexico and Canada. In Congress, I will push for federal funds to fund this project as the national infrastructure issue it is. A highway that serves all Americans should be funded by all Americans. However, I cannot do that unless I am in Congress.

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