The Portland City Council this week unanimously endorsed a comprehensive package of improvements for Interstate 5 from Interstate 405 in Portland north to Interstate 205 in Vancouver, Wash.

In January 2001, the governors of Oregon and Washington appointed a panel of leaders from business, government and the general public to find ways to ease congestion on the freeway in both cities.

The group, known formally as the Portland/Vancouver I-5 Transportation and Trade Partnership, held several rounds of public hearings in Vancouver and Portland before drafting its recommendations last June.

Without action, it found, congestion will threaten the economic stability of the region. It also found that no single method will resolve the problem: that highway, transit and rail improvements along with better traffic management all will be needed.

'Doing nothing is unacceptable,' the report said.

The recommendations call for:

• Three lanes in each direction on I-5.

• Interchange improvements and merging lanes on I-5 between Washington Highway 500 in Vancouver and Columbia Boulevard in Portland and a full interchange at Columbia Boulevard.

• A light-rail loop in Clark County, using the I-5, Highway 500 or Fourth Plain Boulevard and I-205 corridors.

• A new I-5 bridge across the Columbia River.

• Increased freight-rail capacity.

Portland was the last local government to endorse the project. Clark County, Multnomah County, the city of Vancouver, the ports of Portland and Vancouver, and C-Tran, Metro and TriMet already have signed on.

Engineering and environmental studies are under way, but no price tag has been set and no payment method has been devised. Federal money is certain to play a part, however.

'We have to make sure that as a region, Oregon and Washington stick together,' Ed Barnes, a member of the Washington Transportation Commission and the I-5 task force, told the City Council. 'That's the only way we can get the money from Washington, D.C., that this project will need.'

Ñ Don Hamilton

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