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Oregon, Washington Governors Abandon Bridge Design

Wed February 23, 2011 - West Edition
Jonathan J. Cooper - ASSOCIATED PRESS

SALEM, Ore. (AP) The governors of Oregon and Washington on Feb. 3 abandoned the proposed design of a new Interstate 5 bridge across the Columbia River after a report said concerns about cost and construction dangers could not be overcome.

In the latest setback for a project that has struggled for years to find an acceptable design, Govs. Chris Gregoire of Washington and John Kitzhaber of Oregon said they have instructed officials to stop work on the ambitious bridge design that they’ve spent millions of dollars planning. The governors noted they remain “strong supporters of the Columbia River Crossing project” and want the bridge built as quickly as possible.

Planners spent millions of dollars creating the abandoned design, which was developed to balance concerns about the environment, aviation, security, geology, architecture and other issues.

But a panel of bridge experts and transportation officials said the design, known as an open-web box girder bridge, cannot be improved to mollify concerns about its cost and construction risks.

The study suggests three alternatives that would be cheaper and less dangerous to build, while retaining room for light rail, pedestrian and bicycle traffic. Two of them would require review for their impacts on aircraft activity at Pearson Field airport in Vancouver, Wash.

The governors directed their transportation departments to review the recommendations promptly and said officials would recommend an alternative bridge design in three weeks. Their statement doesn’t take a firm position on the three suggested designs but said the governors want the bridge to be built as quickly as possible at the lowest possible cost — a position that likely bolsters a design known as composite deck truss.

That design is the cheapest, has no aviation impacts and requires no additional environmental evaluations. But it’s also the least visually appealing. The total project is projected to cost well over $3 billion when surface street changes and other costs are included.