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Frequently Asked Questions
Why is this corridor so important economically?
As a whole, I-5 is the major connection between the Pacific states - and between western Canada and Mexico. But this specific section of the corridor connecting our two states is critical, because:
  • A unique nexus of trade routes
    In this one section we have a meeting of all the major north/south and east/west modes of trade - the major east/west and north/south rail lines, the east/west and north/south interstate freeways, inland and ocean-going shipping, and, of course, the international airport. There is no other connection like it on the west coast.
  • Access to the region's industry
    Plus, I-5 provides direct access to some of the region's most critical industrial areas on each side of the Columbia River - the Port of Portland, Rivergate, Swan Island, the Columbia Corridor, and the Eastside Industrial District in Portland; and the Port of Vancouver, Columbia Business Park, and the industrial areas in north Clark County, including Salmon Creek and Ridgefield Junction. Because of this, the majority of the truck traffic isn't just passing through; this is where it is starting or stopping.
  • Access to the core business districts
    And, of course, we have the core business areas - Downtown Vancouver, Lloyd Center and Downtown Portland. The communities on each side of the river have adopted plans that focus development in the core areas in order to protect farm and forest land. The success of our regions' plans depends in part on our ability to get customers and workers in and out of these areas.
What would the draft proposals do for freight & the economy?
By 2020, if we make no improvements in both our freeway and transit systems, we can expect more congestion, more delay, and less reliability. This would have an economic cost to our community, doubling the cost of delay to business, and providing poor access to our economic centers.
Specifically, the draft recommendations would:
  • Reduce bottlenecks on the freeway and balance traffic flow
  • Improve key freight interchanges including Columbia Blvd., Marine Drive, and Mill Plain Blvd.
  • Improve bi-state and overall transit service
In 2020, this would mean:
  • Better access to and from key industrial destinations
  • Better access to and from key employment centers
  • Better travel times and less congestion on I-5
  • More reliability and predictability on I-5
  • More reliability and predictability in transit service
  • Each of these benefits helps to create a positive business climate and helps make the region an attractive place to locate and expand business.
What about the West Arterial Road?
The Task Force believes this option looks promising, but not as a replacement for improvements on I-5. Its strength is that it would remove many trucks from the St. Johns neighborhood and provide another link between the industrial areas in North Portland and Vancouver. However, of all the options studied, this one provided the fewest benefits to the I-5 corridor. And it is not clear that there is a way to provide the link without impacting Vancouver neighborhoods. So, the Task Force recommends that this be pursued as a potential transportation solution for consideration in the future, but not as part of the I-5 corridor strategic plan
Light rail -- what's different from past proposals?
The light rail loop proposal got a lot of support in all the I-5 Partnership surveys and public outreach, from the people of Clark County and Portland; yet, recognizing that Clark County has voted it down in the past, many ask what's different this time. One of the key differences from earlier proposals is that this approach can serve more of the county. The phased loop will someday serve both the east and west sides of the county - both the I-5 and I-205 corridors and points between. It is as much about connecting places within Clark County as it is about connecting Clark County with downtown Portland and the airport.
Why not 4 lanes?
Four lanes presents several challenges. Cost and impacts are among those. Adding a fourth lane would double the price and increase the community impacts for a much smaller, incremental improvement in congestion.
The three lanes and other recommended improvements provide a balance that will get the traffic moving more smoothly and reduce the amount of time the road will be congested.
Another concern about increasing capacity to four through lanes in each direction has been the ability of the rest of the system to handle that traffic. There are other sections of the freeway and road system that the agencies have not been able to determine how physically or financially to improve, even to meet the traffic needs today. Significant increases in traffic could contribute to a breakdown of these pieces of our system. The current recommendation to address the "pinch points" provides for smoother traffic flow without taxing other portions of the system.
What about community impacts?
This corridor goes through a number of our region's oldest and most vibrant neighborhoods. Addressing the travel needs has to be done in a way that recognizes and preserves the surrounding communities. Also, because a higher-than-average number of the people who live in these communities are low-income and/or people of color, it is especially important (and is, in fact a law) that we make sure they do not carry an unfair burden of impacts without sharing in the benefits. Some of the impacts people have asked about most frequently include:
  • Air quality
    Because of adopted regulations affecting fuels and car design, and because there will be fewer old inefficient cars on the road, regional models show that air quality should be far better in the future than it is today. That said, there may be local air quality impacts of recommended highway and transit projects for the I-5 corridor, and further detailed analysis will need to be conducted in an environmental impact statement (EIS) to determine the magnitude of those impacts.
  • Potential property impacts
    The bridge area and interchange improvements would require some property impacts, including displacing some businesses and homes on Hayden Island. The actual impacts will depend on the design. For the Vancouver core area, the current design concepts have been refined based on previous public input and now could displace two or less properties. The light rail alignment through Vancouver potentially would require no displacements in the I-5 section; the east/west section could affect and/or displace homes along the route, depending on the alignment chosen.
  • Noise and Visual
    There has been no detailed evaluation of these impacts yet, but when you increase traffic and speeds through an area the assumption is that you will have additional noise (this will be addressed with sound walls, where possible). And when you add pavement, ramps, and walls the visual impacts will need to be considered.