For Columbia River Crossing, Coast Guard objections are just the beginning

The Columbia River Crossing, the $3.1 billion replacement of the bridge between Washington and Oregon, has an entire chorus of detractors. The Coast Guard, with its objections that the bridge is too low to allow certain ships through, might want to get in line.

The current Columbia River Crossing bridge lifts to allow taller ships through.

The current Columbia River Crossing bridge lifts to allow taller ships through. Columbia River Crossing

A concept graphic of the planned Columbia River Crossing.

A concept graphic of the planned Columbia River Crossing. Columbia River Crossing

The Columbia River Crossing, which if built would connect Vancouver, Wash., with Portland, Ore., would not be the nation's busiest bridge — the George Washington Bridge holds that distinction — but it would be massive indeed. I-5's cars and trucks, ten lanes of them, would sweep along the twin spans' upper deck while lower decks would accommodate a light-rail line and a pedestrian-bicycle path 16 feet wide. The expected price tag is $3.1 billion.

If the bridge is built as currently designed, that is. Close to two decades after discussion of a new bridge on the route began, and seven years after the formal launch of the undertaking — described officially as “a transportation project jointly owned” by Washington's and Oregon's departments of transportation — the Columbia River Crossing (CRC) has reached a crucial juncture.

The final environmental impact statement (FEIS) has been published and reviewed. On that basis, on December 7, the CRC received the U.S. Department of Transportation's (USDOT's) final approval, in the form of a “notice of decision” which allowed design and construction planning to proceed.

On March 2, however, The Columbian, Vancouver's daily, revealed a gaping hole in the project's plans: The Coast Guard had informed the bridge-builders in an October 24 letter that the structure's planned 95-foot clearance was inadequate, and that, until that issue was properly addressed, the Coast Guard would not provide a permit essential to proceeding.

The Columbian also reported that a Vancouver oil-rig builder had notified the CRC in 2006 that it needed 125 feet of clearance to barge its mammoth products out to sea, but in 2008 the CRC stated that “there are no apparent adverse impacts from the [95-foot] vertical clearance.” It turns out that at least three other users, reportedly including U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredges, will also need more headroom.

Asked how the project organization could have ignored something so obvious for so long, CRC spokeswoman Anne Pressentin said, “You can't apply for a [Coast Guard] bridge permit until you have a record of decision.” With that record in hand, she continued, the CRC is now revising its information on navigational uses.

“The previous data we had was for the 2004-2006 time frame, and we're updating that by talking with all the users. From there we'll be moving forward with the Coast Guard and identifying the navigation needs. . . . In 2006 they couldn't give a definitive yes or a definitive no on our plans going forward [in regard to the height issue]."

“There was a few we were aware of that had requested a higher clearance,” she said. “We knew that once we got this [record of] decision we would go into this permitting phase. Then we'll be looking at whether mitigation will be necessary — or if we can avoid or minimize the impact.” Mitigation could involve paying the oil-rig builder the added expense of shipping a rig out in smaller parts to get it under the bridge.

“It's really too early to tell” what solution might take shape, she said.

Randall Overton, bridge administrator for the Coast Guard's district office, told Crosscut that the October 24 letter was “meant to encourage them [CRC] to collect all the data they needed before they make their [permit] application. We're trying to get it as early as possible.”

The October letter appears to have had little impact. On December 7 — just hours, it seems, before USDOT blessed the project with its notice of decision — Coast Guard vice commandant Sally Brice-O'Hara sent a memo to USDOT deputy secretary John Porcari, stating that “extensive discussions at several levels of our organizations have substantially exhausted the dispute resolution measures. . . . Although you intend to sign the ROD [record of decision] today. . . the Coast Guard will not be able to accept a bridge permit application based on the information provided in the FEIS.”

The memo goes on to review perceived defects in the FEIS's treatment of the clearance issue, and states that that document, which runs to about 932 megabytes, might need supplementation. Finally, the memo expresses “some concern” that “your FEIS” cites USDOT permitting authority for the bridge when “authority currently resides with the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security,” which includes the Coast Guard.


Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!

Comments:

Posted Mon, Mar 19, 9:10 a.m. Inappropriate

10 lanes for cars and trucks does seem a bit wide to me, but then I haven't read the transit study.

GaryP

Posted Mon, Mar 19, 9:43 a.m. Inappropriate

You know, if we add another level with a coal conveyor belt running to Wyoming, maybe we get the Chinese to pay for the whole thing.

woofer

Posted Mon, Mar 19, 11:06 a.m. Inappropriate

I looked up the height of the 205 bridge. According to Wikipedia, it is 144 feet at low water level. So it seems kind of odd why anyone would think 95 feet would ever be sufficient.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glenn_L._Jackson_Memorial_Bridge

sjenner

Posted Mon, Mar 19, 11:06 a.m. Inappropriate

“You can't apply for a [Coast Guard] bridge permit until you have a record of decision.”..
and, apparently, can't talk to them either. We're doing all this with borrowed money (and newly printed money). Sad.

kieth

Posted Mon, Mar 19, 7:59 p.m. Inappropriate

"I-5's cars and trucks, ten lanes of them, would sweep along the twin spans' upper deck."

"Sweep along?"
HAHAHAHHAAHHAHAHAAH!

Anyone want to make book on whether the first traffic jam will be in the first or second hour of operation?

Steve E.

Posted Mon, Mar 19, 9:25 p.m. Inappropriate

The article's most accurate statement is that "there is something for everyone to hate" about the CRC.

Posted Mon, Mar 19, 10:40 p.m. Inappropriate

Are you kidding?? 10 lanes in either direction and all Seattle gets is the lame bored tunnel instead of an above ground 10 lanes in either direction Viaduct??

I might move to Portland. Especially so if they cancel that dumb ass show Portlandia.

I'm a PSU grad, loved living in Portland in the 70's. Hate Portlandia's pretensious artsy silliness.

Posted Mon, Mar 19, 11:31 p.m. Inappropriate

You might almost think that the real objective here isn't to build a bridge so much as to keep an army of bureaucrats and consultants employed.

Posted Wed, Mar 21, 5:34 p.m. Inappropriate

This was a very fine piece of reporting about the CRC. However, there is one glaring error in it. The Columbia River Crossing has NO federal money committed or assured for construction. Oregon legislators are being told they must commit money to get any money from the feds. In addition, both Congressional Representatives in whose district this project sits are NOT advocates for the project. Any federal money is far from assured. If there is a (required by Wash. state law) vote against operating funds for light rail, it is very unlikely that the $850 million of federal funds would be forthcoming.

Ron Buel

Posted Thu, Mar 22, 8:48 p.m. Inappropriate

Mr Hall, your report is a mere fraction of what's wrong with the CRC engineering. I've explained on this forum before how the leading transportation agency WSDOT, here too as in Seattle, demonstrates dispicable corruption, horrific incompetence and callous disregard for public safety.

The current I-5 bridges are 2-lanes acting as 3-lanes with no shoulders. The new bridges are 3 lanes for thru-traffic plus 2 lanes for entrance/exits between Vancouver, Hayden Island and Marine Drive on the Oregon shoreline plus 'wide' shoulders. The spans are wide enough for another "Lexus lane" achieved with restriping so they're actually 6-lanes wide.

The main public objection has always been the Hayden Island interchange, rightly described as "spagetti" and dishonestly presented to the public as "safer" than existing ramps and other design options. Statistical probability for accidents and "more severe" accidents is MUCH higher. I-5 is raised 30' at the island center to accommodate a 3rd underpass. Less visable exits become steep downhill ramps leading to 'T' stop and forced turns making multi-car rear ends inevitable. Both 'uphill' entrance ramps plus a 'long' Marine Drive 'truck entrance ramp' northbound generate more air & noise pollution on the tiny mostly residential island.

While I agree with the real need to replace the bridges, the safest option, Concept#1, devised by OREGON DOT in 2010, is supportable but censored from public attention. Concept#1 'Off-island Access' is from Marine Drive with no ramps directly at I-5. Major cost savings, reduced impact, safest, least-polluting access to Hayden Island, ideal potential for planned redevelopment.

Save and scrutinize an enlarged view of the bridge cross-section. Its structural integrity is questionable and probably unsound. Notice that the light rail trains are larger than scale indicating more 'dead space' than wsdot admits. ONE properly structured bridge could host LRT trains plus pedestrian/bikeways possibly on both sides. However, the new height limitations suggest a single-deck design is probably inevitable.

About 5 years ago, a single-deck design for building ONLY the SOUTH-bound bridge was studied and likewise inexplicably rejected by the CRC commission. The existing bridges can handle Northbound traffic admirably for decades and provide capacity. MAX LRT & Ped/Bikeway on the 'downriver' side made the southbound bridge 'wider' but entirely viable.

This Southbound-only design was NOT studied with Concept#1 which evolved 3 years later. The proposals together shave the project cost about $1 billion, as if the commission is any more interested in cutting costs than public safety.

Wsdot directors hate Seattle and are plotting to kill thousands with their bored tunnel monstrosity and Seattle street reconfigurations that make city traffic much worse. "Die, librul scum."
The CRC isn't as bad as the DBT, but it's bad.

Wells

Posted Sun, Mar 25, 11:26 a.m. Inappropriate

Dam you lazy ass transit pukes. Proven against your unchallengeable viewpoint, yet again the latest CRC design option is the worst, not near the best, the discussion ends. WASHINGTON DOT is to blame as it reached a tentacle across a border and had it chopped off by Oregon NOAA and Coast Guard. Finish killing your monster. Their DBT & MercerWest will kill you, poison you, intimidate you, cost more, damage more. You're just too dam smart to admit being wrong & stupid. Hurray for Michael Patrick McGinn!

Wells

Login or register to add your voice to the conversation.

Join Crosscut now!
Subscribe to our Newsletter

Follow Us »