I-5 Bridge study delayed–again–public records may show why

The Interstate Bridge Replacement Program (IBRP) was expected to release its long awaited Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) this spring. But the document’s release has been delayed for the fourth time. Construction of the new bridge cannot begin until the Impact Statement’s release followed by a 60-day public feedback period.

The draft impact statement presents the preferred bridge design’s “potential…benefits, impacts, and proposed mitigation measures.” (IBRP). Such a study is required when a major federal action may significantly affect the quality of the human environment. 

According to media sources, the document was originally promised in December 2022. That would make it now nearly two and a half years behind schedule. The Program Director Greg Johnson stated that due to the delay, the project’s price tag may continue to climb from the estimated $5 to $7.5 billion to around $9 billion. That is double the estimated cost of the earlier, failed Columbia River Crossing project. Johnson didn’t provide a specific new price estimate, but said the project is experiencing the effects of a “continuing creep of costs” in the construction industry.

A recently released communication by IBRP organizers states that “The program is working with its federal partners to identify the anticipated timing of publication later this year and will take proactive steps to update the public as the timeline becomes clear.”

But a public records request by Just Crossing Alliance has offered a glimpse into part of the draft that might explain the delay. It reveals that the preferred design would require several Vancouver office buildings and single-family homes be removed. On Hayden Island, up to 35 floating homes would have to be removed and relocated. Fourteen businesses on Hayden Island would also be displaced, together with unknown “marine businesses” on the North Portland side of the river.

That’s not the only public relations difficulty facing bridge replacement organizers. The part of the draft made public shows that after the new bridge is constructed, the commute time will improve only slightly—by seconds. This could be particularly distressing to North Portland neighbors living or working near the I-5 corridor who currently experience poor air quality as hundreds of vehicles slow down or stop to idle on the freeway each day. 

IBRP map of areas affected by the bridge replacement project
IBRP map of areas affected by the bridge replacement project

Further, an IBRP map below shows that the program does not consider North Portland’s I-5 corridor to be an affected area. Note that the red boundary does not extend into the residential area of the corridor where traffic backups can create both access problems and air pollution. Has there been outreach to these stakeholders? 

In contrast, the program organizers have actively sought out business stakeholders. In early May they hosted an event for the region’s construction industry at the Expo Center. More than 300 attendees participated to learn about contracting opportunities.

I-5 bridge replacement organizers' outreach event
I-5 bridge replacement organizers’ outreach event

A recent press release stated that the “program plans to continue hosting events for businesses of varying sizes to connect with each other and the agencies, stay up to date on the latest activities of the program, and learn about new information as it becomes available.” 

Residents who have questions or want to speak to a real person can make a 30-minute reservation with the IBRP office. The appointment must be made at least 24 hours in advance. Reservations can be made in one of three ways:

Visit: SignUpGenius

Email: info@interstatebridge.org

Call: 888-503-6735