First look at a possible I-5 bridge bike and pedestrian path

(Source: Interstate Bridge Replacement Program)

After months and months of draft renderings from the team behind the planned expansion of I-5 between Washington and Oregon that focused on the highway, on Thursday the public finally got a look at what a potential bike and pedestrian path being planned as a part of the project could look like. 

At a meeting of regional leaders, the Interstate Bridge Replacement project team showed a rendering depicting twin six-lane bridge structures, including shoulders, with a light rail train below one of the structures and a bike and pedestrian path below the other. Bizarrely, both areas below the highway are shown in darkness, with no lights depicted on renderings of people using the multi-use path. This has the effect of illustrating how little natural light would reach the path. About a third of the area available below the highway next to that path is shown taken up by mechanical equipment. 

It’s not yet clear what the need might be for mechanical equipment underneath the bridge that could take away space from the walking and biking path. During the meeting, IBR program administrator Greg Johnson noted that the project team was in talks with US Senator Jeff Merkley about including a “smart highway” concept in the design that could include electric vehicle charging capabilities for drivers traveling at “freeway speeds.” 

Portland Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty pushed back on that concept. “90% of the people I know will never be able to afford an electric car, and so if we’re going to be increasing the cost [of the highway] significantly so that people who can afford electric cars can charge it on their way to work, I think we need to have a conversation about that, because that’s an equity issue that would severely impact some populations at the expense of others.”

The rendering doesn’t show any of the approaches to the shared use path on either side of the river, with those still depicted as a generic 3D circle in project renderings. Earlier this year, immersed tube tunnel advocate Bob Ortblad made his own calculations to depict what those ramps might look like. But those drawings drew direct criticism from the project, even as they have not been able to provide their own. That may be partly due to the fact that negotiations with the US Coast Guard are ongoing, after an initial analysis suggested that the IBR design was 60 feet too short to receive Coast Guard approval.

Johnson was emphatic in noting that the rendering shown Thursday is just a “draft concept.” “We have not made a decision on configuration, on bridge type,” IBR program administrator Greg Johnson told the project’s executive steering group. “We know that aesthetics are important for this region, so we are looking at different bridge types that will achieve the aesthetic value at a cost that is going to be acceptable to the partners.” Johnson noted that the IBR has run into issues designing a side-by-side highway project that did not encroach on Fort Vancouver, which he called a “red line” for the project.

The megaproject is steaming toward environmental review, when more details should be forced into public view. After the draft locally preferred alternative was approved nearly unanimously earlier this year, the next big milestone for the project will be next summer, when the public comment period for the project’s Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement opens. Before then, we should have a better look at what the walking and biking path will look like, rather than being kept in the dark.

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pigs
pigs
16 days ago

> depicting twin six-lane bridge structures

I count 8 car lanes. Lets call it what it is.

Chris I
Chris I
16 days ago
Reply to  pigs

10 if you include the shoulder-running bus.

Resdar
Resdar
16 days ago
Reply to  Chris I

The shoulder bus is kinda gratuitous. An efficient design would put express transit buses on the same path as light rail, as Trimet already does in other parts of the system. The shoulder BRT is an okay afterthought thing to do with surfeit freeway overbuild, especially attractive when it hooks a heap of grant money for what’s effectively adding a few signs and maybe some stencil paint (*ahem* Vancouver).

Laura
Laura
16 days ago
Reply to  pigs

Counting the shoulder, travel lanes and the “bus” lane, there are 6 lanes per structure; hence “twin six-lane structures.”

one
16 days ago
Reply to  Laura

But pigs says that there is no bus lane and no shoulder lane

maxD
maxD
15 days ago
Reply to  one

Calling it a twin six is another misleading tactic. This is a 10- lane propsal that could be expanded to a 12-lane crossing. Yuck

maxD
maxD
16 days ago

That looks great. It is pretty reasonable and not too objectionable. And it is a very cleverly chosen snapshot/section of the the most palatable, least controversial aspect. The graphic does not show the massive negative impacts this will have at the approaches on either side of the river. THe graphic disguises the huge increase in height. I am surprised to see the bus-on-shoulder represented, but I wonder if that means no HOV lane? They also neglect to show the tolling gantries.

A fair graphic would show annotated before/after cross sections and longitudinal sections so comparisons could easily be surmised as well as before/after plan and aerial oblique 3D renderings of each approach. This is NOT a infomration graphic, this is a marketing graphic and it is inappropriate for a public agency to obfuscate like this.

Will
Will
16 days ago
Reply to  maxD

Reasonable? It doubles the number of lanes in each direction. That’s not reasonable. It’s the exact opposite of what we should be doing.

maxD
maxD
16 days ago
Reply to  Will

Will, I totally agree. I meant to say that this looks reasonable, but it misleading at beast and likely it is intentionally deceptive. My preference is to seismically reinforce the existing bridges, fix the RR bridge, add a MAX.bike-ped bridge to Vancouver. Basically the Common Sense Alternative that was pitched during the previous iteration of this bridge :https://vimeo.com/22915646

If replacement is necessary, I like Bob Ortblad’s immersed tunnel concept: https://bikeportland.org/2022/02/23/the-overlooked-i-5-columbia-crossing-option-an-immersed-tube-tunnel-348880

This bridge is too wide, too low, too impactful to river-based businesses, too hazardous to the climate, devastating to the areas where it lands on either side of the river, and too expensive. iven that, the marketing image they produced shows this monstrosity as being pretty palatable.

Ben G
Ben G
15 days ago
Reply to  maxD

Tunnel for the cars. Reinforce the current dual bridges and use one for Max and one for bike/ped (and emergency vehicles). Now that is a plan ATMO!

maxD
maxD
15 days ago
Reply to  Ben G

love it!

Fred
Fred
16 days ago
Reply to  maxD

There won’t be tolling gantries. It will use overhead number-plate readers.

Chris I
Chris I
16 days ago
Reply to  Fred

Jokes on them. My license plates were stolen a few weeks ago!

maxD
maxD
15 days ago
Reply to  Fred
Serenity
Serenity
14 days ago
Reply to  maxD

Looks great? “It is pretty reasonable” for who? Truck drivers? “and not too objectionable” Again, for who?

J_R
J_R
16 days ago

“Bizarrely, both areas below the highway are shown in darkness, with no lights depicted on renderings of people using the multi-use path”

For goodness sake, it’s a rendering! It also doesn’t show any lights for the upper level. Besides that, it shows the span ending in the middle of the river. Do you also think that the MAX train is going to fall off the end of the bridge?

Just how wide do you think the pedestrian/bicycling path needs to be? It looks to be about 20 feet wide. That seems adequate to me given the distance across the river.

BTW, I used to commute regularly by bicycle across the existing I-5 bridge. It looks like a huge improvement to me.

squareman
squareman
16 days ago
Reply to  J_R

Yeah, honestly, I like the weather protection (both from rain and hot sun). And it’s not exactly a tunnel. Lights would only be necessary after dusk – but they would be needed (and bright) to keep it safe at night.

Champs
Champs
16 days ago
Reply to  squareman

It’s been years since I all but wrote off the city’s off street trails, and adding shelter from the rain is not going to help that. The underpass just south of the existing bridge is sketchy enough after dark.

squareman
squareman
16 days ago

About a third of the area available below the highway next to that path is shown taken up by mechanical equipment. 

Meaning, the active transportation platform will be closed to those users every time ODOT/WDOT needs to do work on whatever that mechanical equipment is. Hate to be so jaded about this because I’d love to be proven wrong.

ivan
ivan
15 days ago
Reply to  squareman

We’ll probably get to enjoy repair trucks driving on and parking in the bike/walkways just like they did for years on Burnside.

Tomas Paella
Tomas Paella
16 days ago

I would prefer a design that is not sheltered by the roadway above. More natural light, for one, but also deterrence for illegal camping.

Right now I don’t see an easy solution to our drug-crime crisis, at least not one that brings consequences to those that abuse and destroy public space. And so far I don’t see anything to suggest that this won’t be a .67 mile linear shooting gallery.

SolarEclipse
SolarEclipse
16 days ago
Reply to  Tomas Paella

Maybe enforcing the no camping on a pathway used for pedestrian or vehicular transportation could finally be enforced?
Nah, for this the Washington side would be enforced and the Oregon side wouldn’t.
C’est la vie.

Chris I
Chris I
16 days ago

IBR program administrator Greg Johnson noted that the project team was in talks with US Senator Jeff Merkley about including a “smart highway” concept in the design that could include electric vehicle charging capabilities for drivers traveling at “freeway speeds.”

I just threw up a little bit.

Stephan
Stephan
16 days ago

I would wonder what the noise and air pollution on the bike path would be. Not that any alternative close to the bridge would be better, but it is not something that’s visible from such renderings, or visible for your typical car user.

squareman
squareman
16 days ago
Reply to  Stephan

It’s got to be better to be on an underdeck (with all the “thump thump” above) than next to it on the same grade. it will be noisy still, but it won’t be (as) ear damaging.

Ben G
Ben G
16 days ago
Reply to  Stephan

Seems better than the terrible solution at I-205 where you get everything; pollution, debris, noise and a dose of vertigo from the traffic going both ways.

Serenity
Serenity
14 days ago
Reply to  Stephan

Horrendous. Take earplugs.

Fred
Fred
16 days ago

My guess is that the Coast Guard is never going to approve a low bridge, so the bike – train decks will be sacrificed. But I hope I’m wrong about both.

Marcus
Marcus
13 days ago
Reply to  Fred

I hope that MAX light rail never comes to Vancouver. There’s a reason that the Vancouver waterfront is so nice and clean. Vote NO to light rail into Vancouver.

squareman
squareman
10 days ago
Reply to  Marcus

Apples to Apples, comparing north shore to south shore of the Columbia river, it’s not the MAX that makes a difference – it’s all the industrial and commercial stuff on the Oregon side. If you’re referring to the Willamette, I’d consider the MAX side of the river more enjoyable than the I-5 freeway side any day.

Andrew Kreps
Andrew Kreps
16 days ago

The thing this triggers for me is the current implementation of the “mechanical boxes” on the existing path. I don’t trust any civil engineers to leave enough room for my head, let alone room for passing. Tell them to go back to the drawing board and build something people will actually want to use.

Matt D
Matt D
16 days ago

Now we’ll have two downtowns in the region whose skyline is ruined by a massive freeway span. Welcome!

Amit Zinman (Contributor)
16 days ago

I believe that the concept of a multi-use path has been shown to be a failure before and as this bridge will be completed way into the future, this design doesn’t take into account the needs of future transportation. 10 years from now, a lot more people will be riding e-bikes and other fast electric vehicles around. A separation of bike lanes and walk lanes will be a smart investment. I think any bridge should be wide enough for a family to walk side by side and two wide bikes to go side by side in each direction.
Adding more car lanes than there are right now is just the wrong way go if you’re thinking ahead ten or twenty years from now.

DW
DW
16 days ago
Reply to  Amit Zinman

Totally agree. Even if someone is commuting on a regular bike they’d probably want to take advantage of the long straight section to go fast. At least faster than walking. They should get rid of the “smart road” EV garbage so there’s enough room for both.

Maybe they’ll re-stripe one of the 4 extra lanes they’re building as a bike lane in 2065?

Bryan Morris
Bryan Morris
16 days ago

Reading the comments here, it’s easy to understand why none of our community’s problems ever get solved.

Mike Quigley
Mike Quigley
16 days ago
Reply to  Bryan Morris

I never thought this way before, but maybe America would work better as a dictatorship (guys like Trump excluded).

Peter W
16 days ago

Where’s the carpool lane?

Oooh right

George
George
15 days ago

Do folks think it will be an air quality issue having the active transpo below cars? I guess the area is usually pretty windy.

Ryan
Ryan
15 days ago

I thought this was a joke! The people should be up top with access to light, air and views. Put the cars below. I’m curious if there are examples of their design anywhere else in the country or world? It just seems bizarre and out of touch.

squareman
squareman
10 days ago
Reply to  Ryan

Adding cars below and people on top would add more vertical gain for human-powered transportation – already an issue with the proposed heights.

Drew Pike
Drew Pike
15 days ago

If they are going to do this with the train and charge stations for EVs they need to put wheels to turn and create electricity. Heck Biden might pay for the whole thing if we did that.

Not sure if it is feasible but have ramps that go down and up to one side for the recharges. This would keep the top side safer especially for the folks charging their car.

Flip it
Flip it
14 days ago

Flip it. Put the stinking cars in trucks in the dark and the breathing people and transit on top with park-like greenery and scenic overlooks.

for inspiration:
https://www.bridgeofflowersmass.org/

jimmywoo
jimmywoo
13 days ago
  1. JoAnn is terrible. Although we do not need smart highways, she is wildly incorrect that 90% cannot afford an EV. EVs reached price parity up front this year, with comparable gas cars at the average new car price. Take into acct that inflation has increased both, and will decline. This woman has been a scourge to the necessary emissions reductions. Vote. Her. Out.
  2. How can you do an environmental review on a design that isn’t available?
Steve
Steve
13 days ago

Seems like the negotiations with the Coast Guard should be completed before any renderings are generated. The angle of approach to the bridge has yet to be determined.