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Alternatives Considered

70 ideas evaluated

Many bridge, transit and highway ideas have been proposed and evaluated by the CRC project.

The public, stakeholders and partner agencies identified six project area problems which resulted in the CRC Purpose and Need Statement. Based on this identified need, 70 ideas for potential solutions were suggested and discussed by partner agencies, the 39-member CRC Task Force and the public in late 2005 and early 2006. The 70 components consisted of river crossings types and locations, transit options, roadway improvements, travel demand management programs and improvements to pedestrian and bicycle connections. Evaluation criteria were developed by the Task Force during this time to help narrow these options.

Evaluation criteria and screening process

Timeline of number of ideas going from 70 in 2005-2006 to 12 in 2007 to 5 in 2008 and then the LPA chosen in 2008.
Click to open a PDF of the above graphic.

Potential bridge and transit solutions were initially evaluated by project staff and Task Force against the Purpose and Need Statement and whether they could help address the problems. After the initial screening, the most promising river crossing options and transit modes were paired with other components A smaller set of ideas were combined into 12 representative alternatives in 2006.

Each representative alternative included several transportation components: bridge, highway, transit, freight, bicycle and pedestrian improvements, and strategies to reduce travel demand. The Task Force’s evaluation criteria and stakeholder and public input were used to evaluate each alternative on its technical merits. Based on this evaluation, a set of three alternatives were proposed for analysis in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement. Modeling and analysis showed alternatives without improvements to both the highway and transit system did not address the Purpose and Need for the project.

CRC held extensive public discussions to gather comments on the proposal in early 2007. With guidance from the CRC Task Force and the public, the number of Draft EIS alternatives was increased to five to include alternatives that reused the Interstate Bridge. The Draft EIS was released on May 2, 2008 for public and agency review.

Graphic of number of ideas going from 70 in 2005-2006 to 12 in 2007 to 5 in 2008 and then the LPA chosen in 2008.

Locally preferred alternative selected

The six local project partners considered the Draft EIS findings, 1,600 public comments and the CRC Task Force recommendation to select a Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA) in July 2008. The partner agencies endorsed a replacement I-5 bridge, light rail extending to the Clark College area, improvements to closely-spaced interchanges and enhancements to the bicycle and pedestrian path.

Some of the options considered during this three year process included:


Third highway river crossing

CRC studied new river crossings at locations east and west of the I-5 corridor.

Between 68 and 75 percent of trips crossing the Interstate Bridge in peak travel hours use an interchange in the project area to enter or exit I-5. As a result, a new bridge constructed east or west of I-5, would not divert a large volume of traffic to that new bridge and I-5 congestion would remain. In addition, a third river crossing would not address the safety deficiencies on the Interstate Bridge or the highway leading to it. The Southwest Washington Regional Transportation Council (RTC) has studied the future need for a third crossing outside the I-5 corridor.


CRC studied tunnel options to both replace the existing I-5 bridge and supplement the bridge.

Matching the existing roadway grades on either side of the river with a tunnel would be challenging due to the urban environment and water quality issues. A tunnel would likely bypass at least three interchanges in the project area: Vancouver City Center, SR 14 and Hayden Island. A tunnel would require creating an intricate system of arterials east and west of the tunnel for vehicles to access the portals in and out of the structure. This system would have more water quality, right of way, archaeological and historic resource impacts than the alternatives considered.

Arterial bridge

CRC studied two arterial bridge options: one connecting Vancouver to 33rd Avenue in Portland and the other connecting downtown Vancouver to Hayden Island.

A new arterial bridge would carry only 13 to 18 percent of river crossing trips and I-5 would continue operating over-capacity. An arterial bridge would carry both local and regional trips. Traffic congestion in downtown Vancouver would increase by about 60 percent as drivers backed up on local streets trying to bypass I-5 across the Columbia River.

Upstream replacement I-5 bridge

CRC removed the replacement upstream bridge alignment from additional active study because of its significant impacts to the Fort Vancouver National Historic Reserve and its lengthier construction time compared to other bridge alternatives. The upstream bridge alignment is discussed in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement.

Supplemental I-5 bridge

CRC studied options for a new bridge upstream or downstream of the existing I-5 bridge. The existing bridge would remain and carry a portion of interstate traffic.

Analysis showed that a supplemental I-5 bridge for southbound vehicles would not fully address safety and congestion problems in northbound travel lanes. The operation and maintenance requirements of the existing bridges and lift span would continue. Costly improvements would be needed on the existing bridges to prevent damage in the event of a major earthquake.

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Commuter rail

Commuter rail systems typically use diesel powered locomotives and passenger rail cars and operate in existing railroad rights-of-way. CRC studied the use of commuter rail on the existing Burlington Northern-Santa Fe track system.

CRC ruled out commuter rail on the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe tracks because the system does not have the capacity to operate both existing freight rail and more frequent passenger service. A second option, building new commuter railway tracks within the BNSF right of way, has significant environmental and cost impacts. Commuter trains would be slowed by priority BNSF freight trains, which would not improve transit performance in the project area. The project also considered a new railway corridor, but it would have significant right of way impacts.

Commuter rail was also ruled out because of difficulties providing connections to existing bus and light rail systems and key activity centers like downtown Portland. Commuter rail is most effective at reducing congestion in areas with few stops and distances greater than the five-mile Columbia River Crossing project area. 


A ferry service between downtown Vancouver and downtown Portland would be slower than other transit modes and would not improve congestion.


This slower type of transit service cannot serve the region’s existing or future population and would not improve congestion if constructed to serve the Vancouver to Portland commuter market.

Bus rapid transit

Bus rapid transit carries fewer riders per vehicle. Thus, more vehicles would be needed to serve the demand for transit across the Columbia River, adding to the cost of operations and maintenance. Transit riders also would be required to transfer at the Expo Center to connect to the existing light rail system, adding up to five minutes of travel time delay.

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Reversible lanes

Reversible lanes, like those on I-5 in Seattle, require added shoulders and barriers compared to regular highways. This increased width could have greater impacts on right of way in downtown Vancouver. Reversible lanes also perform better as part of a larger, regional system; they would not relieve congestion significantly in CRC’s five-mile project area.

I-205 capacity improvements

Between 68 and 75 percent of traffic on the I-5 bridge enters or exits the highway within the project area, which does not include the I-205 corridor. To address congestion and safety deficiencies, improvements must be made to I-5 itself.

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Related Links

Screening Evaluation Framework
Draft Components Step A screening report
Draft Components Step B Screening report
Draft Environmental Impact Statement