The Pacific Northwest has officially gone boring. Cost-effective? Yes. But still boring.
Monday’s announcement by Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire and Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber that they chose the cheapest option for a new Interstate 5 bridge spanning the Columbia River and connecting Portland, Ore., to Vancouver, Wash., came off as a thud in aesthetics. But you can’t fault the governors. Really, it is the original committee that recommended a double-deck, open-web girder design in 2010 that has put this entire project in design humdrum.
With the 2010 announcement of the open-web girder, something never before done to the scale being proposed for I-5, an iconic look may have been on the horizon, but with it came a looming question mark on if the design could actually work, be built on time and meet the project’s budget.
After the design was called into question, a state-sponsored independent review found all kinds of problems with it and instead suggested the two states minimize their construction risk and spend less on either a cable-stay, tied-arch or composite deck truss option.
In the effort to save design and permitting time, meet deadlines to qualify for federal funding and keep overall construction and design costs down, the governors opted for the cheapest and safest design: the deck truss. No longer did they care about fancy web girders or high-flying cables and arches (being within a few miles of Portland International Airport, the height of the bridge would have brought an entirely new round of reviews).
Sam Adams, Portland’s mayor, is none too pleased either, having been vocal about his desire for an iconic, vertical design.
But, hey, at least the new I-5 bridge will match its cousin a few miles east, the Interstate 205 bridge (the Glenn L. Jackson Memorial Bridge), also simply a deck.
Now this proposed 10-lane bridge, part of a $3.6 billion project (the bridge is about $400 million of the total price tag that includes other area improvements) is on track to actually get built. That’s the great news. But the sad news is that $3.6 billion later and the residents won’t have anything to be proud of.
Of course, with so many bridges in Portland already (Portland has eight major downtown bridges), maybe what residents will be most proud of is being on time and on budget. However, some better planning up front could have given the Bridge City everything it could have ever wanted.