Metro votes 6-1 to move forward on I-5 Bridge Replacement

By DON McINTOSH

Local building trades union leaders came away steamed Jan. 6 when Metro commissioner Mary Nolan was the only “no” vote on a measure authorizing early stage planning for a new I-5 bridge over the Columbia River. 

The vote was whether to approve preliminary engineering and design work on a replacement for the existing I-5 bridge. The Oregon Transportation Commission has voted $36 million dollars for that purpose, and as part of the process, approval by the Metro regional government is also required.

At the Jan. 6 Metro meeting, Columbia Pacific Building and Construction Trades executive secretary-treasurer Willy Myers spoke in favor of the project, which his affiliated unions have been advocating since at least 2005. One of the bridge’s two spans is built on century-old wooden pilings, and the bridge is not rated to withstand a major earthquake.

Metro approved the engineering work, but Nolan’s “no” vote took Myers by surprise, given significant past electoral support she’s gotten from unions in construction.

Reached by phone, Nolan told the Labor Press she supports a replacement bridge, but said it has to be the “right bridge” and it would need to include some kind of dedicated public transit like a bus rapid transit lane or light rail. Nolan said it was frustrating when a state transportation official refused to commit to that under questioning at Metro.

“I have pushed them to build a bridge that 50 years from now people will describe as the first truly 21st century bridge in Oregon, instead of the last vestige of the 1960s style of highway design,” Nolan said.

“I don’t buy it,” said Myers, of Nolan’s explanation of her vote. “We also believe that it needs to have multimodal transportation across it, no question about it. We recognize that climate change is something real, and we need to find a smart solution, but we also have to transport goods and people back and forth across that river safely. Our membership sometimes works in Washington and lives in Oregon or vice versa. And, you know, we need safe transportation across the bridge that will sustain past a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake.”

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