February 6, 2009 Volume 110 Number 3

Labor says replace I-5 bridge now

Local labor officials told Portland City Council it’s time to bring to a close the long and drawn out debate over replacing the Interstate 5 bridges.

“We’ve been talking about this for a long, long time now. It’s not something new,” said Judy O’Connor, executive secretary-treasurer of the Northwest Oregon Labor Council. “This has been studied and studied. The longer we wait, the more expensive it gets.”

Portland City Council held a public hearing on the subject Jan. 29. O’Connor was among 75 people signed up to give testimony.

“It’s time to poop or get off the pot,” said Lynn Lehrbach of Teamsters Joint Council 37. “We need to build a bridge that will last 100 years — and build it 12 lanes.”

The Teamsters want 12 lanes, in part, to allow the center lanes to remain relatively unobstructed for movement of freight. “Moving in and out of lanes can be very dangerous,” Lehrbach said. “The more lanes, the better the trucks can get through.”

Labor groups are generally in agreement that the current six-lane bridges should be replaced with new bridges that have the capacity to accept 12 lanes, with light rail and pedestrian and bike access.

City Commissioner Randy Leonard appears to be on board with that plan, but it’s not clear what other city commissioners, the mayor, or Metro councilors favor. The two councils held a joint work session Jan. 26 to talk about the replacement bridge. From that meeting, it appears opposition to the 12-lane option will come from Metro councilors Carl Hostika and Robert Liberty, and new City Commissioner Amanda Fritz.

City Commissioners Nick Fish and Dan Saltzman and Mayor Sam Adams look to be undecided, as do Metro President David Bragdon and councilors Rod Park, Carlotta Collette, Kathryn Harrington and Rex Burkholder.

A 39-member Columbia River Crossing task force spent three years discussing what, if anything, should be done to the current bridges connecting Oregon and Washington. The task force favors 12-lane replacement bridges with light-rail and bike and pedestrian crossings.

Anticipated cost at this point is between $3.1 billion to $4.2 billion — which also includes work on six nearby interchanges.

Both the City Council and Metro will make their recommendations known by Feb. 25. The bridge, in whatever form, is not slated to break ground for at least two years.

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