What if, instead of a new bridge over the Columbia River between Portland and Vancouver, we built a tunnel instead? Ever wondered how exactly that would work? At an open house in Vancouver later today (Friday, 12/1) you can see a real-life model of the idea and learn more about it from the guy who’s been pushing the idea for years.
If you’re a regular BikePortland reader, you have probably heard of the “immersed tunnel” concept for the Interstate Bridge project. We profiled the concept in February 2022 and introduced you to its main advocate, a retired engineer and dedicated transportation activist named Bob Ortblad. Ortblad hasn’t just proposed a tunnel instead of a bridge, he’s been an outspoken critic of the current Interstate Bridge Replacement Program (IBRP) design and the staff who’ve repeatedly dismissed the tunnel.
Ortblad believes a tunnel is better than a bridge for myriad reasons; including safety, land use, and environmental impact — but IBRP leaders have dismissed the design. In posts made to social media, they say the tunnel isn’t feasible because it wouldn’t have off/on-ramps, would cost more than a bridge, and would have “significantly more environmental impacts.” Ortblad strongly disagrees and has accused IBRP staff of “manufacturing consent” for a bridge.
Back in July, a video surfaced of Ortblad getting into a heated exchange with IBRP Program Administrator Greg Johnson during a Hayden Island neighborhood association meeting.
Now, instead of words and illustrations, Ortblad has built a full model that he says disproves the IBRP’s “false assumption” that a tunnel cannot connect to major destinations like Hayden Island, downtown Vancouver, and SR-14.
Here’s the text from a flyer for today’s event:
The Oregon and Washington State Highway Departments (the DOTs) falsely concluded that the tunnel option evaluated during the initial screening of alternatives for the IBR project could not provide connections between I-5, local Downtown Vancouver streets, and SR-14. That led to the rejection of the tunnel alternative in favor of the current proposal – a giant 200-foot wide mega bridge, towering 100 feet above Vancouver’s historic waterfront.
The DOTs continue to lie to the public about the feasibility of the tunnel connections.
The Tunnel Model That Exposes the False Assumption To illuminate reality, a model of the Vancouver tunnel interchanges was constructed. The model makes it clear — the tunnel alternative offers superior connectivity to the mega-bridge option currently under design.
If you’re intrigued by the tunnel concept and want to ask Ortblad about it in person, there’s an open house in Vancouver today from 11:30 am to 2:30 pm in the lobby of Lucky Lager Warehouse (215 W 4th St.).