It may not have much speed to it, but progress on the new $3.6 billion Columbia River Crossing plan inches along slowly, just like the traffic it aims to ease. The project, which will eventually build a new Interstate 5 bridge connecting Portland, Ore., with Vancouver, Wash., complete with light-rail tracks, has taken a big step this month toward construction. 

First, early in the month, the two state’s governors announced a record of decision from federal partners that made the project eligible for federal funding. Then, just a few weeks later, the CRC project announced that Max J. Kuney Company received the $4.22 million contract to test construction techniques in early 2012.

The Washington-based contractor was the lowest of eight bidders and will give engineers the chance to “refine design assumptions and project plans, keeping the project on schedule to start construction by the end of 2013.”

Crews will drill three shafts and a set of five driven piles at two on-land locations just west of the I-5 bridge in Washington and near the Hayden Island interchange in Oregon. Drilled shafts are the holes that concrete gets poured in to form the bridge foundations and driven piles are the steel columns used in support for the bridge. The test work will wrap in June 2012.

In the meantime, final design work on a 10-lane deck truss bridge—something I’ve called a bit boring, but definitely budget-conscious—is still going, but with a final look largely understood. A design committee had recommended a double-deck, open-web girder design in 2010, but an independent review cited the design as too costly ($440 million for just the bridge) and too risky, instead suggesting either a cable-stay ($400 million), tied-arch ($430 million) or deck truss ($340). The governors chose the deck truss to save on extra design costs and keep the project on schedule, even if not as aesthetically advanced.

The Urban Design Advisory Group hopes to help guide a bridge that should “celebrate passage over a mighty river between two states,” and be an “apt and iconic” presence in the landscape. For now, though, there are no final specifications on the bridge that will eventually be part of a design-build contract.

The environmental review process wrapped up earlier this month, with signatures from the Federal Highway Administration and Federal Transit Administration allowing the CRC project to apply for federal funding. The record of decision identifies the environmental footprint and documents community and environmental commitments and mitigation. 

As little milestones keep piling up for the CRC project, the next big items the folks in the Pacific Northwest wait for are secured funding sources for the entire project, a final bridge design and actual construction. The CRC is still inching toward all of those goals.

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