Frequently Asked Questions

Why do we need to replace the Interstate Bridge across the Columbia River?

Interstate 5 (I-5) provides a critical connection between Oregon and Washington that supports local jobs and families, and is a vital trade route for regional, national and international economies. With one span of the bridge now over 100 years old, the two existing structures are at risk for collapse in the event of a major earthquake and no longer satisfy the needs of modern commerce and travel. Replacing the aging Interstate Bridge across the Columbia River with a modern, seismically resilient, multimodal structure that improves mobility for people, goods and services is a vital priority for the region.

The previous project identified six transportation problems with the existing Interstate Bridge, and we know that all six of these problems still exist today. These include:

  • Seismic vulnerability
  • Limited public transportation
  • Impaired freight movement
  • Inadequate bicycle and pedestrian facilities
  • Safety concerns with existing roadway design
  • Growing travel demand and congestion

A bridge replacement solution must address all six problems and meet or exceed state, regional, and local goals for climate and equity.

Will transit be a part of the IBR program?

The IBR program is committed to identifying a multimodal solution that improves mobility for all travelers while providing equitable access to jobs and critical services. Currently, public transit operating across the Interstate Bridge consists of bus service stuck in the same traffic as vehicles. This reduces transit reliability, especially in the event of a collision or bridge lift.

A replacement bridge will carry high-capacity transit across the river in a dedicated guideway. A transparent, data-informed process is used to evaluate all elements of potential transit investments including:

  • Mode (bus rapid transit or light rail transit)
  • Alignment (location of dedicated guideway)
  • Terminus (end point)
  • Station locations
  • Park and ride locations

Community feedback collected during the fall of 2021 noted improved travel time, reliability, safety, and ease of use as important considerations when evaluating transit investments. Transit improvements are critical components of the program’s equity and climate priorities. As the region grows and becomes more diverse, people are seeking attractive options for travel. Improving multimodal travel choices can help communities meet climate goals.

The IBR program is working with partner agencies including C-TRAN and TriMet, advisory groups, legislators and the community to identify a transit investment best suited to meet the region’s needs today and into the future. Analysis, design refinements, and opportunities for input will continue throughout the federal environmental review process and other studies. Learn more about current work underway on the Next Steps webpage.

Was a tunnel considered as an option for replacing the bridge?

Two tunnel design concepts have already been analyzed as river crossing options. The analysis
showed that tunnel options would result in multiple challenges with the present conditions in the
program area and do not address the transportation issues identified in the I-5 corridor near the
bridge. Tunnel options were removed from consideration because they do not meet the requirements
of the IBR program.

Analysis of the tunnel options revealed the following challenges:

  • Significant out-of-direction travel for drivers, freight, transit users, bicyclists, and pedestrians
  • The inability to tie into existing connections such as SR 14, Vancouver City Center, and Hayden Island
  • Potential safety concerns for bicyclists and pedestrians
  • Significant archeological, cultural, and environmental impacts
  • Cost estimates for a tunnel are estimated to be approximately two times higher than cost estimates for a replacement bridge and approaches. This estimate does not include other highway, interchange, or high-capacity transit improvements that would be necessary.

For more information about the suitability of an immersed tube tunnel, view the Tunnel Concept Assessment

How will the new bridge be funded, and will it involve tolls?

Revenue from a diverse range of sources – including federal funds, tolling, and state funds from both Oregon and Washington – is required. The projected total cost of the bi-state Interstate Bridge Replacement program is estimated to be $6 billion, depending on final design. Cost estimates and potential funding sources will be updated as work continues to identify and analyze river crossing and transit options. The inclusion of funding for the IBR program in recent state and federal transportation and infrastructure packages demonstrates continued support for this program throughout the region.

Tolls will be used to pay for construction, maintenance, and operation of the facility, and to help improve travel reliability within the bridge corridor. Decisions around rate setting, exemptions, and discounts rest with the transportation commissions in Oregon and Washington. The IBR program will work with stakeholders and decision makers to help recommend an equitable tolling system informed by national best practices for tolling in urban areas.  

Who is involved in making decisions and how can I be a part of the process?

The Oregon Department of Transportation and Washington Department of Transportation are jointly leading the IBR program in collaboration with eight bi-state partner agencies. Work is shaped by the direction and timelines established by the governors, legislative committees, transportation commissions and/or transportation departments from both states. Three advisory and steering groups provide input and recommendations on key issues. As part of this work, the program is committed to accessible, inclusive, and ongoing community engagement that provides opportunities for two-way communication and elevates the voices of equity-priority communities.

There are many opportunities to participate in the IBR program and have your voice heard:

Your feedback is critical in identifying a bridge replacement solution.

How will equity play a role in the IBR program?

Large transportation infrastructure projects have historically harmed many low-income communities and communities of color. The IBR program is committed to centering equity in all aspects of work to not only avoid further harm to equity-priority communities, but also ensure they have a voice to help shape program work and realize economic and transportation benefits. Equity-priority communities for this program include:

  • BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color)
  • People with disabilities
  • Communities with limited English proficiency (LEP)
  • Persons with lower income
  • Houseless individuals and families
  • Immigrants and refugees
  • Young people
  • Older adults

The program’s Equity Advisory Group (EAG) makes recommendations regarding processes, policies, and decisions that have the potential to affect equity-priority communities. As part of their ongoing efforts, the EAG adopted a definition of equity, recommended equity-focused screening criteria for design option evaluation, and developed an Equity Framework, outlining the program’s approach and resources used to advance equity.

An equity-centered approach to community engagement includes partnerships with community-based organizations, listening sessions in affinity spaces, multilingual materials and event options, ADA remediation of documents and presentations, participation incentives for equity-priority communities, and live closed captioning and American Sign Language interpretation during public events. Through comprehensive and equitable community engagement, the IBR program pursues a solution that prioritizes safety, reflects community values, addresses community concerns, and fosters broad regional support.

What are the current plans for replacing the old bridge?

In summer 2022, the IBR program’s regional partners endorsed a Modified Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA), which identifies the foundational elements that partners agree should move forward for further evaluation. Elements of the Modified LPA include replacing the I-5 bridge with a seismically sound bridge, the addition of one auxiliary lane in each direction and safety shoulders on the bridge, and the extension of light rail from the Expo Center in Portland to E. Evergreen Blvd in Vancouver. Additional information on the Modified LPA can be found here.

The Modified LPA will be analyzed in a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement and may be modified as a result of the environmental evaluation and public input. Numerous studies, plans, analyses, and opportunities for public input must occur before construction can begin in late 2025/2026.

Is a third bridge an option?

A potential additional crossing over the Columbia River west of I-5 is an important discussion that should be had and considered in a future appropriate setting on both sides of the river. However, advancement of a third bridge does not address the problems on I-5 associated with the Interstate Bridge and therefore does not address the transportation problems associated with the I-5 corridor. The program’s Memo on Screening and Evaluation of Third and Supplemental Bridge Options summarizes how a third or supplemental bridge option was evaluated, the results of that evaluation, and why a third bridge does not warrant further analysis by the IBR program.

Construction of a third crossing would be considered an independent project, requiring a separate environmental compliance effort. In February 2022, the Washington legislature introduced legislation, though it did not pass, to begin studies for a third bridge across the Columbia River.

How is the IBR program addressing climate concerns?

The IBR program is proud to support state climate goals—including the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions—by identifying safe, efficient, and accessible multimodal solutions for people traveling across the Interstate Bridge. Climate considerations guide multiple areas of work including design, construction, operations, and maintenance. Examples include planned improvements to active transportation facilities, zero waste demolition goals, equitable tolling and pricing strategies, and exploration of carbon offsets for construction and ongoing operations.   

The effects of climate change have a disproportionate impact on the physical, mental, financial, and cultural well-being of low-income communities and communities of color. As a program committed to centering equity, climate considerations will be evaluated for their impact on these communities. Climate-driven design and construction work will be evaluated for inclusion of equity-priority communities to ensure robust job opportunities are available to minority and women-owned firms, BIPOC workers, workers with disabilities, and young people. 

How will safety be improved on the bridge and within the program area?

Replacing the Interstate Bridge with a structure that meets current seismic standards will address critical earthquake vulnerability issues.

Interchange design improvements and the addition of ramp-to-ramp connections, known as auxiliary lanes, can help optimize traffic flow and improve safety. Best practice is to space interchanges at least one mile apart in urban areas. Seven interchanges within the Interstate Bridge program area are spaced closer together than what safely allows for vehicles to get up to speed, make lane-changes and exit decisions, and space to change lanes before more vehicles enter the freeway.

Additionally, designs will include a wide, accessible shared-use path for people who walk, bike, or roll across the bridge. Active transportation facilities will improve traveler safety and comfort for all ages and abilities.

How long will construction take? Can I still use the bridge during construction?

Construction is dependent on the design selected. The general construction estimate is between five and seven years. A replacement bridge will be built to the west of existing bridge spans. The existing bridge spans will remain open to travelers until construction is complete. Currently, the program anticipates construction to begin in late 2025/early 2026.

How high will the new bridge be? Will it still have a bridge lift?

The IBR program is proposing a replacement bridge that will be built high enough to eliminate the need for bridge lifts. This will improve freight mobility and reliability for all travelers.

Determining the exact height of a replacement bridge requires balancing the needs of surface, river, and air traffic and access to the communities and populations centers on either side of the river. Analyses must consider river use, vessel impacts, freight mobility, highway safety and efficiency, transit efficiency, land impacts, air safety, economic impacts, and cost.

In late 2021, the IBR program submitted a navigation impact report to the U.S. Coast Guard that proposed a minimum fixed vertical clearance of 116 feet as the first step in the permitting process. The U.S. Coast Guard is the permitting agency who ultimately determines bridge height requirements. The IBR program will continue to work closely with the agency to meet the needs of users and work through next steps in preparation for the permitting process. If any impacts are determined throughout program development, the IBR program would begin discussions with those river users about avoiding, minimizing, or mitigating impacts. The IBR program does not anticipate applying for the U.S. Coast Guard permit until the 2025 timeframe.