The real expense of the $5 billion I-5 bridge replacement project isn’t actually building a new bridge over the Columbia River: It’s widening miles of freeway and rebuilding every intersection north and south of the river. A decade ago, an independent panel of experts convened by OR and WA governor’s strongly recommended to ODOR and WSDOT that they eliminate one or more intersections.
The panel concluded that 70 percent of the cost of the project was rebuilding 7 interchanges in five miles.
The experts told ODOT and WSDOT that project interchange spacing violates both federal and state design standards.
The expert panel concluded that eliminating interchanges would reduce project cost, improve safety, and improve traffic flow.
Failing to look at removing or simplifying intersections after getting this expert advice is arbitrary and capricious; ODOT and WSDOT are violating the National Environmental Policy Act’s requirement that they take a hard look at reasonable alternatives
Bridge Review Panel: A totally new bridge design; eliminate interchanges
Today’s “Interstate Bridge Replacement” project is a warmed-over version of the failed Columbia River Crossing of a decade ago. Like the current effort, the CRC was controversial and highly criticized. The Governors of Oregon and Washington intervened and appointed to special, independent review panels of national experts, both of which spotted errors in project. The first, a 2010 Independent Review Panel, determined that ODOT and WSDOT’s proposed “open-web” design for the river crossing was “unbuildable.” That led the two governors to appoint another panel, the bridge review panel, to come up with an alternative design. That panel, also chaired by Tom Warne, issued its 146-page report in 2011.
In addition, to coming up with a buildable bridge design, the Bridge Review Panel recommended that reducing and simplifying the number of interchanges in the project area, rather than repeating and expanding each of the existing interchanges would reduce costs, and make the project function better. Their comments are worth quoting at length:
The panel concluded that improvements to the functionality of the overall roadway network in the project limits should address urban design issues. The use of a collector/distributor system was found to be unworkable, but reducing and simplifying the number of interchanges would significantly improve both functionality and cost.Substandard Interchange Spacing and Project ImpactsIn the project corridor, seven interchanges in less than five miles results in interchange spacing that does not meet state or federal minimum requirements of one mile for interstates in urban areas. In some circumstances, interchange spacing is half the minimum required. It is not unusual in urban areas to have substandard interchange spacing. However, it is unprecedented that all seven interchanges on a project corridor have less than minimum spacing. Not only are safety and operations an issue, more than 70 percent of the project budget is associated with these interchanges. Minimum interchange spacing is necessary for operational efficiency and user safety. Substandard interchange spacing in the project corridor can be expected to negatively impact both. Interchanges adjacent to the Columbia River and North Portland Harbor also increase environmental impacts and detract from the visual quality of the shoreline and the character of a signature bridge.It is the view of the panel that some consolidation of the interchanges on the project corridor is warranted. This consolidation would have the following direct benefits to the project:
- Improved safety and operations.
- Significant reduction in capital costs.
- Reduced environmental impacts.
- Enhanced viewsheds along the Columbia River.
- Improved opportunities for a signature span, from budgetary, logistical, and performance perspectives.
With respect to interchange spacing, the panel offers the following secondary recommendation:
Review all interchanges, ramps and other geometric features to simplify the overall corridor design for substantial cost savings and to improve safety and corridor operations.Bridge Review Panel Report, 2011, Page 96 (emphasis added)
. . . the panel does feel strongly that much work remains to be done to improve the ramps and interchanges throughout the project and that simplification of these elements will bring about a better and more functional solution. In fact, the panel is struck by the fact that most states are working to remove congested interchanges and ramps rather than building their way towards such a condition: as is occurring here. In addition, the volume of interchange access is not in harmony with state or Federal guidelines. The BRP recommends further study to address interchange geometrics and operations. In addition, the whole corridor would benefit from a more comprehensive urban design reviewBridge Review Panel Report, 2011, (emphasis added)