Bridge Replacement Program to Address Equity

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 23, 2022


The I-5 Interstate Bridge Replacement Program in Washington and Oregon is anticipated to not just replace the aging bridge and remedy travel concerns, but also be among the first infrastructure projects in the nation to prioritize equity.

“We know that the [Departments of Transportation has] a commitment to equity on this program, as well as the program partners,” said Greg Johnson, Program Administrator of the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program. “And that comes out of a realization that transportation has not always been done in an equitable manner.

Interstate Bridge Replacement Program

A vital connection between Oregon and Washington, the Interstate 5 Bridge crosses the Columbia River and is reportedly crossed by thousands of people daily. The two states are working together through the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program to replace the aging bridge to improve regional, national and international commerce and transportation.

The Interstate Bridge is two side-by-side bridge spans, with the northbound span dating back to 1917 and the southbound span opening 1958. Utilizing community and stakeholder engagement, the program determined issues that need to be addressed with the modernization of the bridge:

  • Growing travel demand and congestion;
  • Seismic vulnerability;
  • Safety concerns as a result of existing roadway design;
  • Impaired freight movement;
  • Inadequate bicycle and pedestrian facilities; and
  • Limited public transportation.

Additionally, the IBR Program plans to focus on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) to engage the community by “elevating the voices of historically marginalized communities throughout process and ensuring these communities can realize the program’s economic and transportation benefits.”

As of January 2021, Oregon and Washington have dedicated a combined $40 million for initial replacement planning work. A bi-state legislative committee, including 16 state lawmakers, provides additional guidance and oversight for the program.

The Oregon Department of Transportation and Washington Department of Transportation also plan to work in coordination with partner agencies TriMet, C-TRAN, Oregon Metro, the Southwest Washington Regional Transportation Council, the cities of Portland and Vancouver, and the Ports of Portland and Vancouver.

WSDOT reports that, based on the program’s current schedule, construction is estimated to begin in mid-2025. Prior to construction, the department plans to:

  • Complete the federal environmental review process;
  • Obtain necessary state and federal permits;
  • Finalize project design;
  • Develop a finance plan; 
  • Secure adequate funding;
  • Complete right of way acquisition; and
  • Advertise for construction.

In January, officials from the IBR Program shared possible design renderings for the bridge replacement, including a two bridge and one bridge option. At the time, Johnson said that while the images helped engineers and decision makers come up with plans, he was seeking more community input. 

“For the general public, these 3D graphics are tremendously helpful in seeing how this thing looks. So we're going to try to get those things out as soon as they're developed,” said Johnson, who added that community input has already helped shape what they are working on now. 

According to a timeline from the render presentation, now through June the community, boards, councils and other involved groups will review and consider these design options. By summer, additional analysis and design refinements will result in a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, expected to be published mid-2024.

The project is anticipated to cost $3.2-$4.8 million. 

Funding, Creating Equity

At the beginning of the month, Washington lawmakers came to an agreement on a $16 billion state infrastructure package that would include $1.2 billion for the IBR Program.

“I’m confident that the package will include $1.2 billion for an I-5 Bridge replacement that would represent Washington state’s commitment and responsibility for the funding of that project,” said state Sen. Annette Cleveland (D-Vancouver), who is a co-chair for Oregon and Washington’s Joint Committee on the Interstate 5 Bridge.

Additionally, officials announced they were looking into grants from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, signed in November last year. The three grant options from the federal infrastructure bill include the $15.8 billion Competitive Bridge Investment Program, the $10 billion National Infrastructure Project Assistance Program and the $23 billion FTA Capital Investment Grant New Starts Program.

Part of the funding from the infrastructure bill is anticipated to be provided for historically disadvantaged communities, a common goal with IBR.

“There are instances around the country where freeways or transportation infrastructure were placed with no consideration for the community that it was impacting, the people that it was displacing,” Johnson said.

Johnell Bell, Equity Officer for the IBR Program, told The Columbian that Clark County has seen the most significant growth by people of color in the area. Since 2010, Clark County has added nearly 78,000 residents, 76 percent of whom are people of color, according to the 2020 U.S. Census.

“We know, by our own survey data — not scientific but as our own survey data — that communities of color are more frequently crossing the bridge than white counterparts,” said Bell. “So there’s a strong equity argument to make as to why we really need to replace this aging infrastructure.”

“Our program is built around having lesser impacts to communities that have been impacted in the past,” said Johnson. “And we know that that’s not possible all the time. But our mission is to not displace folks and to not have these negative impacts, whether it’s during construction or during the operation of the bridge itself.”

Infrastructure Bill Details

With the goal of rebuilding the nation’s deteriorating roads and bridges, as well as funding new climate resilience and broadband initiatives, the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act reportedly serves to deliver a key component in President Joe Biden’s agenda.

Projects approved in the legislation, according to the White House’s Fact Sheet, will include:

  • Delivering clean water to all American families and eliminate the nation’s lead service lines ($55 billion);
  • Ensuring access to reliable high-speed internet ($65 billion);
  • Repairing and rebuilding roads and bridges with a focus on climate change mitigation, resilience, equity and safety ($110 billion);
  • Improving transportation options for millions of Americans and reduce greenhouse emissions through the largest investment in public transit in U.S. history ($89.9 billion);
  • Upgrading airports and ports to strengthen supply chains and prevent disruptions that cause inflation, also creating jobs and reducing emissions ($17 billion);
  • Making the largest investment in passenger rail since the creation of Amtrak ($66 billion);
  • Building a national network of electric vehicle chargers ($7.5 billion);
  • Upgrading power infrastructure to deliver clean, reliable energy and deploy energy technology to achieve a zero-emissions future ($65 billion);
  • Making infrastructure resilient against the impacts of climate change, cyber-attacks and extreme weather events ($50 billion); and
  • Delivering the largest investment in tackling legacy pollution in American history by cleaning up Superfund and brownfield sites, reclaiming abandoned mines and capping orphaned oil and gas wells ($21 billion).

The White House also reports that the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, alongside the Build Back Framework, will add on average 1.5 million jobs per year for the next ten years.

“Tonight, we took a monumental step forward as a nation,” President Biden said in a statement following the 228-206 vote. “The United States House of Representatives passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, a once-in-generation bipartisan infrastructure bill that will create millions of jobs, turn the climate crisis into an opportunity and put us on a path to win the economic competition for the 21st Century.

“I’m also proud that a rule was voted on that will allow for passage of my Build Back Better Act in the House of Representatives the week of Nov. 15. The Build Back Better Act will be a once-in-a-generation investment in our people.”

As potential effects of climate change woe the world, the legislation has recognized that nearly 75% of the nation’s electricity can be accounted for in both its residential and commercial structures, such as housing, stores and offices.

To mitigate the high usage, the Build Better Plan has dedicated roughly $5 billion to various programs aimed at reducing electricity use in buildings, improving building materials and training on design, construction and maintenance for energy-efficient structures.

The bill will also fund a series of problem-solving programs, for issues varying from drafty windows in affordable housing complexes to aged air ducts and outdated building codes.

According to reports, the largest chunk of the $5 billion will be utilized for the Department of Energy’s Weatherization Assistance Program, which aids structures owned or occupied by people with low incomes. The legislation is expected to provide a $3.5 billion infusion for the program, which will be used to fund upgrades such as insulation, windows, roofing, and heating and cooling devices.

Though seemingly minor, the upgrades are expected to result in sizable energy savings.

Later in November, the White House announced that President Biden named former New Orleans Mayor Landrieu as senior advisor responsible for the implementation of the bipartisan infrastructure bill.

Landrieu served as the mayor of New Orleans from 2010-2018, during Hurricane Katrina recovery and the BP Oil Spill. According to the White House statement, in that time he fast-tracked over 100 projects and secured billions in federal funding for roads, schools, hospitals, parks and critical infrastructure.

“He also knows what it’s like to lead at the state level and will be able to work with and relate to governors and other state officials,” stated the White House press release. “And he has strong relationships in the business and labor communities, which will be essential in carrying out this job.”

At the beginning of the year, Landrieu reached out to state leaders at the beginning of the month encouraging them to appoint their own infrastructure coordinators to implement the $1.2 trillion law.

The three-page letter, sent to all the nation’s governors on Jan. 4, requested that they appoint a “high-level” representative to serve as the state’s own Infrastructure Implementation Coordinator. Landrieu also reportedly suggested that governors create task forces modeled after the Infrastructure Implementation Task Force created by President Biden in November.

The role of these positions will help integrate aspects of the bill, including funding, alongside departments responsible for transportation, water, broadband and energy investments for projects.

In February, the White House released the first edition of its Bipartisan Infrastructure Law guidebook that contains a comprehensive list of the more than 375 programs and available funding included in the law.

Acting as a “roadmap” for the funding available under the law, as well as an explanatory document that shows direct federal spending at the program level, the 465-page guidebook outlines 12 chapters grouping the programs by area.

According to the release, more than $80 billion has been allocated to states from formula and competitive programs for roads and highways, bridges, ports, airports and water systems. Additional programs, including for high speed internet, electric vehicle chargers, energy grid updates and clean energy, are in the process of being implemented.

Of the 375 programs, 125 are new, with 60% of the funds are available through formula and 40% are through competitive applications. Future phases of the guidebook are expected to update dates and timelines for program implementation, best practices, case studies and links to key resources.

Earlier this month, Congress passed a $1.5 trillion omnibus bill that will fund federal agencies for the remainder of fiscal year 2022, including $775 million for infrastructure funding from the bipartisan infrastructure bill. 

The 2,741-page bill includes $81.038 billion for FY2022 for the Department of Transportation, Department of Housing and Urban Development and other related agencies. Of that funding, $775 million will go towards national infrastructure investments.

No less than $20 million is expected to be awarded to projects in historically disadvantaged communities or areas of persistent poverty, as well as equitable geographic distribution to address needs in rural, urban and Tribal communities. 

   

Tagged categories: Bridges; Bridges; Department of Transportation (DOT); Funding; Government contracts; Infrastructure; Infrastructure; Mass transit; NA; North America; Program/Project Management; Roads/Highways; Transportation; Upcoming projects

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