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I-5 exhibit helps bridge understanding from past to present

VANCOUVER – As area residents consider a controversial Interstate-5 bridge replacement across the Columbia River, WSU Vancouver hopes to expand understanding with an exhibit about the social, cultural and economic heritage of the bridge that connects Vancouver, Wash., and Portland, Ore.
“Bridging the Gap: the History of the Interstate Bridge,” will run Feb. 3-Oct. 29 at the Clark County Historical Museum. Created by the WSU Vancouver history program in partnership with the museum, it is funded by a grant from Humanities Washington. The museum charges admission.
A free public reception will be 5-9 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 3, at the museum. Jorge Lizárraga (lee-ZA’-rah-gah), professor in the College of Liberal Arts at WSU Vancouver, will give a lecture – “Drawing the Bridges: The Legacy of Urban Redevelopment Projects and the Emergence of Community Activism Against the Interstate Bridge Project” – at 7 p.m.
His talk will delve into Portland and Vancouver’s history with redevelopment projects. Lizárraga will discuss Portland urban renewal projects, the initial construction of I-5 through Portland, downtown Vancouver’s redevelopment and the public’s response.
“The ‘Bridging the Gap’ exhibit is a great example of how the museum and WSU Vancouver work together on projects that benefit the community,” said Susan Tissot, executive director of the Clark County Historical Society and Museum. “A number of people do not know the history of the bridge and how it was built.”
While the Washington and Oregon State Departments of Transportation have jointly studied and presented a plan about how to replace the I-5 bridge, the crossing is a frequent and controversial topic in the region among residents and politicians.
U.S. Sen. Patty Murray of Washington recently called on local business and political leaders to come together in support of a new bridge with light rail. Estimated to cost $3.6 billion, the project would replace twin three-lane drawbridges with a 10-lane span, improve five miles of freeway on both sides of the river and extend light rail to Clark College.
Project planners anticipate a cost split among the federal government, the two states and local revenue generated by bridge tolls. While the money generated by tolls would be significant due to the 135,000 daily vehicle crossings, many Vancouver residents who work in Portland fear the tolls would affect them disproportionately.

Laurie Mercier, co-director of the exhibit and history professor in the College of Liberal Arts at WSU Vancouver, is confident the exhibit will inform residents on both sides of the river about the historical significance of the bridge and the debate surrounding it.

“We hope that by understanding the history of the bridge, attendees will have a greater appreciation of how the bridge has evolved, how the cities of Portland and Vancouver are linked and how transportation issues have challenged residents of both the past and present,” she said.

The Clark County Historical Museum is located at 1511 Main St. in Vancouver’s 1909 Carnegie Library. Hours are 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. Admission is free 5-9 p.m. during the First Thursday Museum After Hours program. For more information, call 360-993-5679 or visit

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