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Legal challenge to new I-5 bridge to be heard Thursday

Land-use board asked to overturn Metro approval of controversial project
by: Tribune File Photo A project to replace the aging Interstate Bridge faces a few legal and land-use hurdles.

The first legal challenge to the Columbia River Crossing will be heard Thursday by the state's Land Use Board of Appeals.

The board will hear arguments about Metro's approval of the land-use final order allowing construction of the controversial Interstate 5 bridge and freeway project. The regional government's elected council approved the order on Aug. 11. Metro must authorize all major transportation projects in the Portland area.

Opponents appealed the approval, arguing the law the council followed was only intended for light-rail projects, not freeway projects. The bridge proposal includes a new light-rail line between Portland and Vancouver.

Project partners Metro and TriMet will argue that the state law creating the land-use final order process includes highway projects constructed in conjunction with light rail projects. It was passed in 1996 to govern the original North-South MAX line proposed to run from Vancouver, Wash., to Oregon City.

Those filing the appeal include the Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods and the Coalition for a Livable Future. They oppose the current version of the project, arguing that it is too expensive and will encourage more motor vehicle traffic between Oregon and Washington, resulting in more suburban sprawl and greenhouse gas emissions.

'This project is very risky. We shouldn't gamble by skipping the steps provided by Oregon's land use process,' said Mara Gross, CLF's policy director, said in a prepared statement.

The project is estimated at between $3.1 billion and $3.6 billion. It includes a replacement I-5 bridge with a new light-rail line and improved access for pedestrians and bicyclists. The project also includes improvement to seven freeway interchanges in a five mile stretch of I-5 that includes the bridge. It is intended to reduce congestion and improve safety in the heavily used transportation corridor.

The project is supported by business and union organizations. It is opposed by environmentalists and livability advocates.

The federal government must approve the final environmental impact statement on the project before it can begin. The FEIS was submitted to the federal authorities this week.