PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The aging I-5 Bridge connecting Oregon to Washington could get a replacement using federal funds from an infrastructure bill signed into law back in November.
The bridge, which is a critical point along a major shipping corridor and links Portland to Vancouver, is over 100 years old, having been opened in 1917. According to KOIN 6 News partner The Portland Tribune, it relies on old wood pilings underwater which make it prone to collapse or heavy damage during an earthquake.
Transportation officials want to completely replace the bridge with “a modern, seismically resilient, multimodal structure,” WSDOT’s website reads.
U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) toured the bridge over the Columbia River on Wednesday. Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle of Vancouver and a representative of the I-5 Bridge Replacement Program joined the senator to discuss how funding could be directed.
“That bridge needs to be replaced with a new transit system and that’s what we’ve been working on,” McEnerny-Ogle said. “The engineers are telling us that the current bridge will fail in the event of a Cascadia earthquake.”
That’s why Cantwell said she helped push passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, signed by President Joe Biden on Nov. 15.
“We’re here today because just recently the federal government announced its criteria because the federal government has just announced what it calls the MEGA project program,” Cantwell said at the event Wednesday.
There is $5 billion in the competitive program, which Cantwell called a once-in-generation investment opportunity. She said, the race is on to meet the criteria and qualify the I-5 bridge replacement for those federal dollars.
Cantwell is helping local officials apply for the grants.
The Oregon and Washington Departments of Transportation are leading plans to replace the crossing taken by an estimated 138,000 drivers every weekday.
Concepts for the new bridge aim to reduce carbon emissions and include improving access for cyclists and public transportation. Designs address ongoing major traffic jams along the route, proposing more lanes to alleviate congestion.
Tolling, however, is also on the table as a means to raise funding, officials said. ODOT would be the toll administrator, according to a recent meeting of transportation officials.
Currently, Washington and Oregon split the cost of maintaining the bridge, estimated at around $1.2 million per year.
The states have agreed to share the cost of a replacement, which is likely still years away.