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ODOT will close northbound span of I-5 Bridge for 9 days next year

Posted by on October 21st, 2019 at 12:01 pm

Get ready for 2-way traffic on the I-5 Bridge sidewalk.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

How worried is the Oregon Department of Transportation about an upcoming closure of the Interstate Bridge? They’ve announced it nearly one year in advance.

Last week ODOT made notice of a nine-day closure to the northbound span of the Interstate 5 Bridge between Oregon and Washington. The full closure will be from September 12th to 20th. It will give crews a chance to repair a damaged section and replace old parts in one of the towers of the 102-year old span.

“The closure is expected to create significant traffic snarls and delays,” says ODOT. That’s because the bridge carries about 300,000 car and truck users every day. During the closure, bridge users will share the southbound span. Yes that means two-way traffic on the bridge deck and on the sidewalk. Here are more details:

During the closure, the southbound span will remain open to traffic in both directions. Northbound and southbound travelers will share the three lanes and the sidewalk on the southbound bridge. Movable concrete barriers will provide two lanes of traffic in the busiest direction. During the morning commute, two southbound lanes and one northbound lane will open for traffic. At midday, crews will move the concrete barriers to provide two northbound lanes and one southbound lane for the evening commute.

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(Screenshots from ODOT video at InterstateBridge.org.)

In a video on the project website, ODOT says if the amount of car and truck drivers remains constant, people can expect up to 16 hours of congestion a day and backups that extend for four miles on either side of the Columbia River. It’s also likely that spillover traffic will clog the I-205 Bridge and local streets like Lombard (Hwy 30) and Columbia.

This closure should be an interesting test of how willing (or unwilling) people are to change their travel behaviors — especially given that talks of a new I-5 bridge replacement project are already heating up.

To avoid carmaggedon ODOT is encouraging people to plan ahead by working from home, carpooling or taking transit. Unfortunately (but not surprisingly) ODOT doesn’t even mention bicycling in their announcement or on their website. Bicycling across this bridge isn’t ideal, but it’s certainly possible and it’s something hundreds of people do every day. It’s a shame that ODOT has so little respect and awareness for cycling that they don’t even present it as a feasible mobility option.

As for cycling conditions, the existing sidewalk is already so narrow that some people are afraid to use it. One small silver lining is that the southbound sidewalk is a tad wider than the northbound one. Even so, with two-way bicycling traffic ODOT will need to invest in signage and education to prevent collisions. ODOT closed the northbound sidewalk for 10 days back in 2013, so they should have ample experience with this issue.

Do you ride the I-5 Bridge? What will you do during this closure?

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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37 Comments
  • Avatar
    Chainstays October 21, 2019 at 12:24 pm

    As a daily rider on the I-5 bridge, 2-way traffic on the sidewalk is not unusual given the confusion connections on both side of the bridge. I’ll plan to bike on the south bound side on the morning commute, yielding to folks going south and try to be patient…it will be better than being in a car.

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    • Avatar
      Todd Boulanger October 21, 2019 at 1:29 pm

      Yes it will stay a 2-way bikeway until ODoT makes it oneway…even thought this is technically a joint WA & OR owned facility. WSDoT generally defers to ODoT for this facility based on a likely “ancient” “joint” operations agreement. (We at the CoV tried to coordinate it as a one-way facility in the flow of MV traffic, but the ODoT of ~2007 was not interested in this change even though it has benefits during peak hour…and not being blinded by on-coming car headlights at night.)

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      Todd Boulanger October 21, 2019 at 1:42 pm

      Actually this work is going to affect the region much longer than the “planned” 2 week bike ned closure…more like 4 weeks. The web page says “Lane closures on the Interstate Bridge and I-5 will begin late August 2020 and continue into late September 2020 in addition to the full closure of the northbound bridge”. So it would behouve regional commute drivers to switch to cycling across the bridge once any lane closures start in August…if they cannot take 4 weeks off from work.

      The last time the Trunnion work closed the I-5 Bridge was in the 90s (1996?) for the younger bridge unit. (This new work will be on bridge hardware that is twice as old as the last time they worked to do a similar repair.) The plan back then even included scheduling Amtrak Cascades trains as a local commuter service. (I hope they can do this again but doubt there is any extra track capacity now.) They got lucky in the 90s as the work went quickly (on the “young” ~50 year old bridge) and a lot of folks went on vacation…too bad this upcoming work cannot happen when school is all out…thus the vacation option would be more effective.

      It is going to be interesting how this interim “zipper” style contra flow lane will work without inducing even greater carmageddon…I guess ODoT will do a stationary “bridge lift” and stop all traffic 2x per day just to move the barriers.

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    • Avatar
      Todd Boulanger October 21, 2019 at 1:48 pm

      I had a sad but funny discussion with ODoT staff about a I-5 Bridge closure in the early 2000s as to what they “recommended” cyclists do for their un announced full bike path closures (one side was closed for the painting and then they decided without notice to do work on the other “open” side)…they told me to use I-205 as my alternative route for cycling. LOL.

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  • Avatar
    Dave October 21, 2019 at 1:00 pm

    As a long time Vancouver resident, I hope the engineers find something that causes them to say “This thing is a death trap and we’re never opening it back up.” I fear a never-ending dither over a replacement bridge–the hands of the powers that be need to be forced.

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    Mike Quigley October 21, 2019 at 1:29 pm

    Nightmare. ODOT wants a new bridge. This is intended to guarantee one.

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      J_R October 21, 2019 at 5:23 pm

      Oh, stop it. Do you really think this is a conspiracy on the part of ODOT?

      What item with moving parts that is 90 years old and is left outside in the rain doesn’t require periodic maintenance and replacement of parts?

      Have you ever had to replace the chain on your bike even though you lube it regularly?

      Are you still riding a 90 year old “safety bicycle” and driving the Model T passed down from your grandfather?

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      • Avatar
        q`Tzal October 21, 2019 at 9:13 pm

        It’s a conspiracy when they time the shutdown to coincide with a public vote on the matter.

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          Gilly October 22, 2019 at 11:54 pm

          What public vote?

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  • Avatar
    oliver October 21, 2019 at 1:30 pm

    CRC opinion survey for Clark County residents; public comment period opens September 21st !

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    matchupancakes October 21, 2019 at 3:05 pm

    It would be safer for all modes to provide jersey barrier protection on the bridge deck for micromobility while keeping cars within the other two lanes bidirectional.

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  • Avatar
    todd boulanger October 21, 2019 at 3:28 pm

    PS – Jonathan; great photo!

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    Raktajino October 21, 2019 at 3:40 pm

    I wrote the program and was told that CTran and TriMet are discussing how to increase service and reliability to make busing more appealing. I don’t remember my suggestions exactly, but definitely there needs to be more service and with extended hours to increase the ability of people to flex their hours. Hopefully they can cooperate for once?

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  • Avatar
    Roberta Robles October 21, 2019 at 4:24 pm

    This image is like two middle fingers up for the public 1) one for no bike lanes and 2) for no Bus Lane. Bi di-rectional bus lanes with service to the C-Vine. I’m told the majority opposition to this is people who work for the Port of Portland who live in Vancouver. They can’t fathom riding the bus. So.. we will see how climate action ready the Port of Portland really is, can their people ride a bus? Then everybody can. Who wouldn’t want a BRT station at Peterson Airfield? Beautiful view! Never forget the Russian’s crash landed their and that is historic preservation. You can’t trump that.

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  • Avatar
    EP October 21, 2019 at 4:44 pm

    Maybe during the closure we could get a pedestrian and bike-only water taxi from Vancouver to downtown PDX!

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    • Avatar
      Dave October 22, 2019 at 7:05 am

      There’s precedent–before the Interstate bridge opened in @1913, there was a ferry!

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  • Avatar
    Roberta Robles October 21, 2019 at 4:51 pm

    delete last comment sorry. not helpful.

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  • Avatar
    Chris I October 21, 2019 at 5:52 pm

    It would be really great if we had some sort of mass transit into Vancouver during this work. Oh well…

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  • Avatar
    Merlin October 21, 2019 at 8:25 pm

    The picture caption says “get ready for 2 way traffic on the I-5 bridge sidewalk”. From my experience this has ALWAYS been the case on the downriver (wide) side.
    In fact I (and the people I ride with)use this side coming or going and meet bikes and pedestrians both ways. Obviously you have to be careful and I yield ROW when appropriate or I perceive a dangerous situation.
    I just hope any new bridge has somewhat wider bike lanes on BOTH sides.

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  • Avatar
    Tom Hardy October 21, 2019 at 10:21 pm

    Odds are the Washington administrators will shut down the new bridge, once the trunion is fixed, deciding it will be good for another 50 years.

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  • Avatar
    Ted Buehler October 21, 2019 at 10:59 pm

    Todd or others —

    I read about this at the time, the last time they did it in the 1990s.

    Didn’t they do a massive Transportation Demand Management outreach, and there was no congestion at all?

    Seems that this success story from the past could be used to pitch a “we can do this” spin on the upcoming closure, rather than a “doom and gloom” spin.

    Ted Buehler

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    • Avatar
      J_R October 22, 2019 at 7:54 am

      One of the big reasons the traffic situation was not horrendous when they did the previous shutdown is that lots of people who commute across the bridge simply took vacations that time. I expect that’s why they are announcing the closure almost a year in advance so people can make similar plans.

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    Kittens October 22, 2019 at 2:26 am

    I’m not usually this tinfoil hatted but the timing is curious.

    Also completely disingenuous, bordering on contempt to suggest commuters use transit as a solution to this. How is that an improvement to sitting in your car if you are stuck in the very same traffic with no priority?

    They should close the bridge to all but transit which would run 24/7 at 5 min headways from a dedicated route from downtown Portland, expo ctr, Hayden island and a couple of huge park and ride lots in Clark Co. Express shuttles from Vancouver to downtown. Yes it is expensive but so are tens of thousands of people stuck in traffic for 9 days. It would be great training wheels for people to imagine commuting beyond SOV. A demonstration of the future and solution to the current dilemma facing the region going forward.

    Two lanes for transit and the third for a barrier protected super lane for bikes and Peds. Haul some temporary planters and lighting up on the bridge and install benches and attractive interpretive signage and colorful banners about local history and ecology along the way and make it something fun and interesting to explore. Partner with the scooter companies to create a special zone encompassing Hayden Island and downtown Vancouver.

    It’s time to stop worrying about what car-centric people think and just show them it works if we really believe it is possible.

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    • Avatar
      matchupancakes October 22, 2019 at 11:04 pm

      nomination for comment of the week

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  • Avatar
    Peter W October 22, 2019 at 3:55 am

    I get that ODOT needs to stage their equipment in the closed lanes or whatever, but would it be possible to keep the sidewalks/bikeways open on both sides? ODOT should think creatively here.

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    Peter W October 22, 2019 at 3:56 am

    Note this from the announcement:

    > In addition, four ramps in the project area will close for traffic control and to ensure a safe work zone.

    I’d be very curious about a) what closing those ramps does for smoothing out traffic flow, and b) if it has any impact on crashes / fender benders / safety.

    I suspect ODOT knows this helps for both (which is why they’re doing it) – and keep in mind this part of the suggestion for an alternative to the massive CRC option.

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      gilly October 22, 2019 at 11:48 pm

      Three of the ramp closures are on the northbound side. (Marine Drive, Hayden Island, & I5 to SR14) The 4th is the South Bound on ramp from SR14/downtown Vancouver which merges on right at the bridge.

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    Resopmok October 22, 2019 at 6:11 am

    How about one lane for truck and auto traffic each direction and one lane for transit that switches directions as needed to get busses across. Busses can pick up in downtown Vancouver and drop at popular Portland-side stops and/or max stations. It would be a preview of what BRT could be like and still provide the opportunity to get people to work in a timely way (I’m assuming that’s the important function, not fun and shopping trips which cross the Columbia).

    Ah never mind. Yay cars!

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    • Avatar
      J_R October 22, 2019 at 9:19 am

      Where are all the vacant parking spaces in downtown Vancouver that you’d use for this event?

      There are over 50,000 Washington residents who work in Oregon. Maybe half use I-5 and half use I-205. You might need as many as 10,000 extra parking spaces to get half the I-5 motorists into buses.

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    Gary B October 22, 2019 at 7:30 am

    Moveable concrete barriers? So that the gridlocked traffic can safely stay in their lanes? It’s a miracle that in some places lane-switching happens daily with nothing more than changing signs. It takes a special kind of cynicism to justify the cost of installing and moving those barriers every day, while steadfastly seeking to avoid any sort of protection for vulnerable road users system-wide.

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    Harald October 22, 2019 at 7:53 am

    Todd Boulanger
    It is going to be interesting how this interim “zipper” style contra flow lane will work without inducing even greater carmageddon…I guess ODoT will do a stationary “bridge lift” and stop all traffic 2x per day just to move the barriers.

    They do the barrier move in free-flowing traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge every day. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IzAGqOfDANM

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  • Lenny Anderson
    Lenny Anderson October 22, 2019 at 8:36 am

    I was working on Swan Island at the time of the last such closure, October, 1997. To their credit the DOT’s pulled out the TDM (Transportation Demand Management) stops that time…HOV lanes on both I-5 and I-205, free C-Tran van if you signed up 10 riders, free C-Tran bus if you signed up 30, extra Amtrak commuter rail run, etc. Of the 30 plus employees from Clark county at Boise Cascade R&D, 10 were in a van, a few worked from home, several more formed carpools, others took special C-Tran buses. And overall it was a big non-event congestion-wise. Sadly the DOTs and others quickly forget these lessons in TDM. And here we are!

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    • Avatar
      kittens October 22, 2019 at 3:28 pm

      Yeah I remember ’97 too. “Trunnion Trama” chyrons on KATU and wall-to-wall coverage of the impending doom.

      Like most snowfall in Portland: non-event. Mostly due to the huge publicity and transit campaign.

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    Bjorn October 22, 2019 at 9:27 am

    We ought to really consider how 1 sided the traffic is on both the I-5 and I-205 bridges. If any future upgrades or replacement of either occurs it should be paid for largely by Washington as they are the main user, it makes little sense for Oregon to contribute significant resources to subsidize sprawl out into rural parts of Washington. At the same time the idea of building fewer lanes for motor vehicles and having some of them switch direction at midday to maximize their utility seems like a good one and Washington should think about it if they decide they want to invest in a bridge. #nocrc

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      Andrew October 22, 2019 at 11:17 am

      I suppose it would be okay then if all those Washington Residents that pay Oregon Income Tax be exempt from paying that tax? This sounds like the argument Clackamas County used so they could avoid helping with the costs of the Sellwood Bridge.

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      mike October 23, 2019 at 10:27 am

      Really? The taxes we pay already for – ostensibly – road upkeep mean that little to you?

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    Andrew Kreps October 22, 2019 at 12:25 pm

    I’m curious what “people can expect up to 16 hours of congestion a day” really means. Does that mean traffic will be going slower than the speed limit for two-thirds of the day? Or is it going to take 16 hours to get across the bridge? Don’t we already have at least 8 hours of “congestion” every day?

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