Other Options

Joe Cortright, president of Portland-based Impresa Inc., a transportation consulting firm that also opposed the CRC, says some steps are universally agreed on.

Oregon's Hayden Island currently can be accessed only via I-5, putting local traffic on an already congested highway system. Even the CRC plan called for adding a local bridge connecting the island to Portland to move traffic away from I-5.

Proponents of smaller-scale projects also want to see fixes to a downstream BNSF railway bridge to eliminate over 85% of all lifts of the current I-5 bridge. The railroad bridge's pivot point sits near the Oregon shore, which means river traffic must make an S-curve from the midpoint of the I-5 bridge—its tallest section—to the opening in the railroad bridge. When river conditions don't allow the tricky maneuver, the I-5 span lifts near the Oregon side, halting interstate traffic. Moving the pivot point would eliminate the S-curve.

"These are easy things to do," Crandall says. "There are things that could happen almost immediately."

Cortright calls the CRC cancellation "emblematic" of a shift in how transportation projects will move forward in the future, opting for smaller, phased projects when funding already exists. Cortright wants to also see changes made to traffic flow, including running HOV lanes all the way across the bridge and closing off the final northbound on-ramp before driving onto the bridge.

But there's still the concern about what to do with congestion on the freeway, even if projections say that tolling a new bridge would keep traffic volumes at current rates, which have dropped to 2000 levels. By bringing the two current structures into compliance with seismic codes—at a cost of about $300 million, according to the project's environmental impact statement—placing a third bridge somewhere in the corridor to distribute traffic would serve as a final piece.