Bridge height questions crop up in CRC design

Bridge height questions crop up in CRC design »Play Video
Columbia River Crossing bridge design.

VANCOUVER, Wash. - There may be a serious design flaw with the multibillion dollar Interstate 5 Bridge project and it may be an issue some companies have been warning about for years.

As first reported by KATU News partner The Columbian newspaper, the U.S. Coast Guard is also now saying the bridge design may be too short.

The new bridge has to be low enough to allow airplanes to take off and land from nearby Pearson Airfield. That's one of the reasons Columbia River Crossing designers pushed ahead with a plan with 95 feet of clearance above the water.

But Vancouver company Thompson Metal Fab told designers it needs much more room to get its giant products to market – 125 feet of clearance.

The issue has the attention of the Coast Guard’s new head of bridge permitting for the region.

"There's some initial indications that 95 feet wouldn’t be reasonable – needs some navigation," said Cmdr. Randall Overton, bridge administrator for the U.S. Coast Guard's 13th District. "We're just trying to quantify that (and) what those impacts may be. We're basically trying to figure out what is the correct number."

"Everything in our conversations with the Coast Guard at that time indicated that that would be OK (the 95 feet)," said Anne Pressentin, with the Columbia River Crossing project. "But they couldn't give us a definitive yes or no at that time, and that's what the permit process is for."

She acknowledged that it might be possible that things are being looked at differently after Overton came on board in July.

A taller bridge means onramps would have to be redesigned, making the entire project more expensive.

"There have been some numbers thrown out there, but I can't confirm at this time (what they are)," Pressentin said.

Bridge planners say that maybe the few companies with big products could build them in smaller segments so they could get under a 95-foot bridge.

Planners and the Coast Guard talk regularly and both are hoping to come up with a solution.

Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire has to decide whether to give both Washington and Oregon the authority to set toll rates to help pay for the bridge. The proposal passed the Washington state Legislature Wednesday night.

The bill sets a $3.4 billion cap on the project. It also bans the states from tolling drivers on the Glenn Jackson Bridge.

A combination of tolls and money from Oregon and Washington would pay for most of the project. The federal government would pick up a third of the cost.