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Real waste would be to abandon I-5 bridge

The Columbia River Crossing project is coming under renewed criticism for the amount of money that's been spent without any concrete yet poured for the proposed Interstate 5 bridge.

During the weekend, for example, The Oregonian provided a great deal of detail about the ways that the project staff has so far spent nearly $130 million on the project. We agree with critics who say those expenditures are excessive when you consider that ground won't be broken for the bridge for at least another year and a half.

However, it's no surprise that the amount has reached $130 million - that figure has been reported numerous times during the past few months. Nor do any seeming examples of wasteful spending detract from this underlying truth about the bridge: It must be either replaced or rebuilt.

The I-5 crossing between Portland and Vancouver, Wash., as it exists is old (a portion of it is nearly 100 years old). It cannot withstand a major earthquake. It is overburdened with traffic. It is a drawbridge that poses a continual bottleneck for freight movement. It also has no light-rail component and only dreadful access for bicyclists and pedestrians. And nearby interchanges are dangerously spaced.

Deficiencies of the current crossing are well understood, and they form the motivation for the massive project to replace it with a modern bridge that can better handle car and rail commuters, freight, pedestrians and bicyclists.

Much of the $130 million in question has been spent on environmental and engineering studies that still will be applicable to the simplified bridge design that's been chosen by the governors of Oregon and Washington.

In other words, nothing has really changed with the Columbia River Crossing. A peculiar sickness of large government projects is that they cost more, take longer and tolerate more waste than most of us would like.

But turning our backs on the crossing at this point would ensure only that the progress made so far was for naught - and that would be the biggest waste of all.