If the public wants in on a little bit of the controversy surrounding the proposed $3.5 billion Columbia River Crossing, they have their chance on Wednesday, Nov. 14.

During an open house in Vancouver, Wash., CRC officials will unveil the results of a “comprehensive analysis of various bridge heights for the replacement Interstate 5 bridge.” Bridge height wouldn’t normally seem like a major public-interest topic, but the U.S. Coast Guard basically laughed the CRC project off the drawing board in spring 2012 when the height it had been working with for six years, 95 ft of vertical clearance, was revealed.

CRC officials thought they had the blessing of everyone involved when working with 95 ft and CRC directory Nancy Boyd wrote in a letter to state officials at the time that she was “extremely concerned about this recent development, since the project has acted on the 95-foot bridge clearance criteria in good faith since 2005.”

But the Coast Guard had raised “serious concerns” in 2011 and in March the CRC went back to the planning stages on height for the 10-lane bridge connecting Portland to Vancouver.

The current bridge’s liftspan provides 179 ft of clearance and the upstream Interstate 205 bridge offers 144 ft. Past studies show that 80 ft serves most users, but there are as many as seven users requiring 125 ft. Heights are restricted in the area because of two nearby airports, including Portland International Airport. And by adding in a light rail option below the main bridge deck, the underside of the proposed bridge has drawn closer to the river. Studies show that changing river conditions have also complicated matters.

Since the spring, the CRC staff has further looked at a mid-range bridge between 95 and 110 ft, originally identified as the “locally preferred alternative.” In addition, staff completed a new study of the feasibility of 115-, 120- and 125-ft options. The full report can be seen here.

All the studies took into account river use, vessel impacts, freight mobility, highway safety and efficiency, transit efficiency, landside impacts, air safety, economic impacts and the costs associated with various bridge heights.

The CRC has the month of November to further refine its analysis and expects to make a recommendation in December that will get included in the general bridge permit application expected to be submitted to the Coast Guard in January 2013.

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