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Playing Poker with the Coast Guard

    As the Oregonian reports, in mid-June the Coast Guard issued a Preliminary Navigation Clearance Determination (PDF) for the Interstate Bridge Replacement Project (IBR) expressing their determination that the vertical clearance for the bridge needs to remain at 178 feet, far above the 126 feet in the project’s Locally Preferred Alternative recommendation.

    This is not the final word, the Coast Guard will not issue a permit until 2025 or 2026 and the project insists they will continue with the 126 foot design (the Coast Guard issued a 126 foot permit to the last iteration of the project a decade ago – requiring mitigation payments of $86M to upstream users of the river who would lose access for tall cargo).

    This is eerily familiar to those of us who tracked the last project, when managers insisted they could get a permit for a 95 foot bridge and then had to spend a year and tens of millions of dollars redesigning to the permit height.

    This is why our Alliance insists it’s critical to analyze an additional alternative – either a lift bridge or a tunnel – as part of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that the project plans to deliver at the end of 2023. We want to see a version of the project that is not as tall and does not require elevating multiple interchanges to meet the increased height of the highway.

    We don’t want to lose another bluff with Coast Guard. And a bridge higher than 126 feet would either have grades unusable for active transportation and freight, or would involve massive structures on Hayden Island and in downtown Vancouver.

    Make the smart bet and add an alternative to the EIS!