Cheaper bridge is better

While some Portlanders wax nearly hysterical at the prospect, the governors of Oregon and Washington have made clear they want safety, cost and speed to matter where a new Interstate 5 Columbia River bridge is concerned. The governors are right, and even over here we have a stake in who wins this particular argument.

Why should Central Oregonians, more than 150 miles from the bridge, care? The region's businesses, our farmers, manufacturers and others, do use the Interstate 5 bridge, according to figures from the Oregon Department of Transportation.

In fact, freight from around Oregon uses the interstate and its bridge — some 82 percent of all freight shipped in Oregon, including that from Central Oregon, sooner or later winds up in the greater Portland area, including Vancouver, Wash.. Both interstate transportation and in-state transportation will suffer if a new bridge is not built as soon as reasonably possible.

Work on the bridge has been going on for years now, and sometimes it seems we're no closer to construction than the day the discussions began more than a decade ago.

First, there was a prolonged argument about just how big the bridge should be, with the usual suspects even questioning why a replacement for the existing bridge is necessary. Projected hours-long traffic jams if nothing is done has mostly settled that one.

Then there's been the discussion about design. Portland Mayor Sam Adams and Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt said they want something "iconic," which translates roughly into "more expensive than it ought to be."

Some $109 million was spent — some of it on the mayors' favored double-deck, open-web box bridge design.

The two states concentrated instead on bridge designs that have been used elsewhere on large projects, that can be built safely and at least relatively inexpensively.

The DOTs settled on a deck truss bridge, a la the Glenn Jackson Bridge across the Columbia on Interstate 205.

Transportation officials say it will be at least $100 million cheaper than the design favored by the two mayors. Moreover, as one of the oldest types of bridges in the world, the deck truss design is a known quantity that doesn't require the technical and engineering ground-breaking the open-web bridge would. Finally, a deck truss bridge will not require a new environmental impact statement and all the delays that implies. Instead, officials say, construction could begin within the next couple of years.

The two state departments of transportation have been under plenty of pressure to pull back from their deck truss recommendation, which is expected to be finalized this week. That would be a shame. Oregonians cannot afford to see this project delayed any longer.

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