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Interstate Bridge A Source Of 'Frustration, Fumes and Failure'

The nation’s transportation secretary was in Portland Monday. Mary Peters toured a massive distribution center owned by  Columbia Sportswear and spoke about the department's plans for the I-5 corridor.

She says the feds could pay for up to 80 percent of the cost of a new interstate bridge over the Columbia River. Kristian Foden-Vencil reports.

Mary PetersThe Columbia Sportswear distribution center is a massive one-and-a-half million square foot building. It has nine miles of conveyor belts.

Transportation Secretary, Mary Peters, watched as workers put clothes on little trolleys, which then zipped around the warehouse on rails.

Distribution director, Marty Shaddix, showed her how computers help each trolley drop its merchandise into the right order basket.

Marty Shaddix: “It’s fun. That’s why we have this automation.”

Mary Peters: “Yeah, and we were just talking. The days of thinking that warehouse work is kind of grungy work. It’s not, it’s very automated, very clean, very fast."

Marty Shaddix : “Very much so. I mean our customers are very much more demanding, hence we have to invest in them to get it to the market faster and on time.”

The CEO of Columbia Sportswear, Tim Boyle, told Peters how long delays on  I-5 can wreak havoc on his distribution systems — making trucks late and unable to pick up return loads on time.

Peters said she understands. She called the current Interstate bridge: one of the worst bottlenecks in the road.

Mary Peters: “The drawbridge serves as a chokepoint, causing the kind of backups that contribute to the 38 hours a year that the average Portland resident spends stuck in traffic.   These tie-ups cost Portland's businesses and residents over $625 million a year.”

She says Portland is not alone. She says traffic congestion has increased by more than 300 percent since 1994.
She says gridlock and delays waste people’s time and precious fuel, and that’s why Northwesterners need a new bridge over the Columbia.

Mary Peters: “We want this corridor to serve as a source of opportunity and a source of prosperity. Not a source of frustration, fumes and failure.”

A new bridge, which Peters says is likely to carry cars, trains, pedestrians and bicycles, is expected to cost up to $6 billion.

She said that since the area was just designated a "Corridor of the Future" $15 million has already been earmarked and the federal government could end up paying up to 80 percent of the cost.

Officials hope to build it within 10 years. But Peters says efforts to fast track the project, could shorten the wait.

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