FOR THE PAST several years, the Columbia River Crossing (CRC) might as well have arced darkly over Hayden Island.
Assumptions about the Interstate 5 bridge and highway project have played into plans for how the island builds out. They've figured into residents' hopes for easier access to the rest of the city. And, crucially, they've anchored a proposal for a controversial new marine terminal the Port of Portland wants to build in a sensitive ecological area along the Columbia River.
But the CRC does not yet stretch over Hayden Island, and likely never will—it was declared dead by political leaders after an acrimonious Washington State Senate vote on June 29. Now, city planning officials and folks on both sides of the marine terminal are trying to parse out what the CRC's demise might mean.
"Every assumption for the last two years has been: There will be a CRC," André Baugh, chair of the Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission, told the Mercury on Monday, July 1. "Now it becomes a major focus as to whether the plan can move forward."
The bridge's death is a game changer for the commission, which has wrestled with logistics of a new terminal for years. It's also, perhaps, well timed.
Baugh's group is expected to issue its formal recommendation on annexing 800 undeveloped acres of West Hayden Island on Tuesday, July 9. That annexation, if Portland City Council approves it, would clear the way for a new 300-acre Port of Portland terminal. With plans for the CRC dashed before it votes, the planning commission can weigh a more realistic view of how the project will look without it.
The CRC's new, efficient interchanges were expected to help connect Hayden Island residents besieged by traffic jams on the Interstate Bridge. New freeway ramps also would ease whatever truck traffic the new terminal would cause. In the past, planners had discussed building a bridge from West Hayden Island to Marine Drive to handle traffic—a project that would add millions to the Port's construction costs. But studies found that was unnecessary so long as the CRC went up.
"The only reasonable conclusion that the city can now reach is that the studies underpinning this decision, as well as the final draft plan currently up for adoption on July 9, have been rendered fatally obsolete," Bob Sallinger, conservation director at the Audubon Society of Portland and a long-time foe of the new terminal, wrote to the planning commission on Tuesday, July 2.
That's not the Port of Portland's take.
"It has little to no impact," says Susie Lahsene, the Port of Portland's transportation and land-use policy manager. The proposed terminal, she says, relies on trains and ships. "The amount of traffic associated with the West Hayden Island improvement is minuscule."
City hall isn't making any big statements yet. Mayor Charlie Hales, though, promised during his State of the City address in April that Hayden Island's fate would be determined, in part, by the CRC.
"We think it's dead dead, not zombie dead," Dana Haynes, Hales' spokesman, said of the bridge. "The mayor wants to convene the right people to figure out what the next steps are."
If the various plans for Hayden Island proceed, those steps will have to involve something new over the Columbia River.
"There needs to be additional connectivity on the island for a lot of things to work," says Chris Smith, planning commissioner and local transportation activist. "If [the CRC] is truly dead, then how quickly are we going to be having a conversation about what we should be doing with the crossing?"