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COLUMN: Kris Strickler's KEEP OREGON MOVING

Current condition of bridge falls short of safety, equality and environmental goals.

PMG FILE PHOTO - The Oregon Department of Transportation has lots of necessary work planned for the Interstate Bridge.Every time I cross the Interstate Bridge, I am struck by its significance.

A great feat of engineering for its time, it crosses the mighty Columbia River and on clear days, Mount Hood comes in plain view. It is our region's most important piece of infrastructure along Interstate 5, a critical connector and emergency lifeline for Portland and Vancouver. It is also vital to regional, national and international trade.

That's asking a lot of a bridge. And now we're asking more.

The original Interstate Bridge, now the northbound span, opened in 1917, before we ever discussed things like seismic resilience and climate change. The second span, which opened in 1958, was built to mirror the first and relied on many of the same engineering standards. Kris Strickler, director of the Oregon Department of Transportation.

While the Interstate Bridge has served the region well, it has not kept up with today's needs for the safe and efficient travel of people, goods and services using a variety of transportation modes. Work is underway to replace the Interstate Bridge with a modern, seismically resilient, and multimodal structure that prioritizes equitable transportation, including transit and active transportation options, and aligns with our climate goals.

The Oregon Department of Transportation and the Washington State Department of Transportation are co-leading the Interstate Bridge Replacement program to provide a safer, more reliable connection, and are breaking new ground in the areas of equity and climate resilience when it comes to transportation projects. Equity and climate are cornerstones of the program and stem directly from key priorities and policies of both states.

This will help ensure that people of color, people with disabilities and low-income travelers are recipients of the many benefits the program will generate, including mobility improvements, transportation options, contracting opportunities for small businesses, and project-related jobs. These issues align with the priorities set out in our {obj:59695:Strategic Action Plan }to build and maintain a modern and safe transportation system that helps relieve congestion.

Our equity priorities are being advanced through ongoing community engagement designed to provide equity priority communities the ability to influence decisions. This is a sharp departure from the way large transportation projects have historically been conducted. We need to center community, equity, and the benefits we can bring for a climate crisis within the transportation sector.

Climate change is also an equity issue that often compounds the challenges that vulnerable communities already experience. To help address this, the program has pledged to do its part to reduce emissions in support of climate goals established by ODOT and other partners. A multimodal structure and corridor will lend to more efficient movement of vehicles and reduced emissions.

One piece of an effective climate strategy that supports equity is building a more robust and reliable high-capacity transit system as part of the replacement program. A multimodal structure that integrates enhanced accessible active transportation will help reduce emissions and support active lifestyles.

The IBR program is committed to prioritizing climate-friendly methods and materials during demolition and construction. For example, the program team is evaluating a zero-waste approach to demolition, using recycled steel and low-carbon concrete in the trusses and supporting columns of the new bridge. Smart roadway design, demand management tools and climate-friendly construction are also critical components of the program.

Finally, the new Interstate Bridge will be engineered for seismic and climate resilience to prepare for future conditions that could bring more flooding and extreme temperatures along with the ever-present danger of a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake. Today it costs $1.2 million annually to operate and maintain the Interstate Bridge, with an estimated $270 million in repairs needed by 2040. Even with these investments, today's bridge is at risk of collapse in the event of a major earthquake, which would sever a critical lifeline for the region and take years to replace.

The current condition of the Interstate Bridge falls far short of meeting our community needs for safe, equitable and environmentally responsible transportation. Extensive community engagement has confirmed there is significant interest in the program and that there are many transportation problems that travelers experience with the existing Interstate Bridge that must be addressed.

Doing nothing is simply not an option for our community.

Kris Strickler is director of ODOT. Comments can be directed to 888-Ask-ODOT or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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