Columbia River Crossing needs a growth spurt--fast

Bridge handed a lawsuit contesting its 95-ft vertical clearance

Blog Entry July 16, 2012

Bill Wilson is the editorial director of ROADS & BRIDGES magazine and has been covering the industry since 1999. He has won seven Robert F. Boger Awards for editorial excellence, including three in 2011. He also was the creator of the Top 10, Contractor's Choice Awards and Recycling Awards platforms, as well as ROADS & BRIDGES Live.

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At this point, the Columbia River Crossing may never get off the ground. However, if it ever does, it better be at least 125 ft above the water line.


The CRC project, which went through months of back-and-forth debate over the type of bridge that will span the Columbia River, is now facing a pair of lawsuits. The first pointed finger comes from Vancouver's Thompson Metal Fab Inc. According to Thompson, the CRC project has been warned numerous times by the National Coast Guard to increase its vertical clearance for marine traffic and commerce, and the current height of 95 ft just is not going to cut it. Thompson said it needs at least 125 ft of air space, and the existing I-5 drawbridge over the Columbia River offers 179 ft when the bridge is lifted.


The second gripe comes courtesy of three Portland nonprofit groups claiming the CRC project fails to follow environmental laws ensuring the highway, light rail and bridge plans will be safe for people and the environment.


A CRC spokesperson claims both lawsuits were expected. OK, wait a minute. If you did receive several glares from the U.S. Coast Guard, and essentially had a feeling that the 95-ft clearance would be contested, then why on this great Earth would you sit the bridge at a height that was going to lead to a lawyer knocking at your door? Is it simply impossible to tack on 35 more feet? Obviously it is not, since the existing bridge can open to 179 ft. Did you simply blank out during the design process? Or did you choose to ignore the warnings and complaints? Please tell me there are other factors involved here. I would like to think there are, because after all the planning process has lasted a whopping seven years.


The funny angle here is the lawsuit involving the clearance names the Federal Highway Administration and the U.S. DOT as co-defendents. One would think the U.S. Coast Guard, the FHWA and the U.S. DOT would all be on the same page. If the U.S. Coast Guard did have an issue with the vertical clearance of the CRC, one would expect the issue to be resolved before the project received the final blessing.


However, the CRC project is choosing to remain relatively mum about the accusations, leaving us high and dry--at an altitude above 95 ft, of course.

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