VANCOUVER, Wash. — U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on Tuesday visited the century-old Interstate 5 bridge that connects Portland, Oregon, with southwest Washington state, a vital but earthquake-vulnerable structure that’s set to be replaced as part of a multibillion-dollar project supported by federal funding.
The bridge carries more than 130,000 vehicles a day across the Columbia River between Portland and Vancouver, Washington, according to regional transportation agencies. It’s a key component of I-5, which runs the length of the West Coast.
Seismologists say the Pacific Northwest is at risk of a severe earthquake — magnitude 9 or greater — that could destroy significant parts of the region. The aging bridge, which opened in 1917, is at risk of collapse in a major quake, which could kill many people and sever a crucial transportation link in such an emergency. Plans to replace the bridge have been in the works for decades.
The bridge, the first automobile span to cross the Columbia River, became part of I-5 in 1957. A second span opened the next year.
The Interstate Bridge Replacement Program received a boost in December when it was awarded $600 million in federal funds under the bipartisan infrastructure law. The money will come from the National Infrastructure Project Assistance or “Mega” program, a Department of Transportation grant initiative that was created by the law to support projects that are too large or complex for traditional funding streams.
Replacing the bridge is estimated to cost at least $6 billion. Further analysis and assessments are needed before construction, which is tentatively set to begin in late 2025 or early 2026.