Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Coast Guard OKs new bridge plan; LRT still in

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The U.S. Coast Guard has approved a new bridge carrying Interstate 5 over the Columbia River, linking Oregon and Washington states, and potentially including Portland TriMet light rail transit service to Vancouver, Wash.

At issue is whether Oregon decides to go it alone in advancing a new version of the Columbia River Crossing regardless of what its neighbor does. Time is also a potential constraint; the Coast Guard bridge permit will expire if construction doesn't begin within three years and conclude within five.

Though Washington state failed to secure its portion of funding for the entire bridge project last summer, and while anti-rail forces continue to press for a bridge without LRT included, the Coast Guard decision does aid Oregon decision-makers still interested in pursuing the project, now estimated to cost $2.8 billion – with LRT included in the mix. Oregon has remained adamant in insisting LRT be included in any new bridge project.

As part of the approval process, Oregon has agreed to pay nearly $90 million to three upriver businesses that may not be able to get some of their products under the new bridge, which would have a lower clearance of just 116 feet, according to local media.

Changes made in the new plan also include upgrading Oregon interchanges but dropping plans for comparable interchanges in Washington state north of State Route 14 in Vancouver. Oregon is considering paying for some of the remaining upgrades in Washington state with its own funds, though it needs to reach agreement with Washington state to do so.

"Getting the go-ahead from the Coast Guard meets a key viability requirement and makes the project's path forward clearer," Matt Garrett, director of the Oregon Department of Transportation, said in a statement.