When I read the assignment for this article asking for five “insider” ways to avoid traffic on I-5 northbound at Marine Drive, my first thought was that there really aren’t many options. If a person is going north past Marine Drive, the destination is most likely Washington State.
The only exit past Marine Drive before Vancouver, Washington, is for Jantzen Beach, on an island in the Columbia River. The obstacle preventing too many options is, of course, one of North America’s great rivers. So if you are that far up I-5, you are stuck.
So options to make your journey faster need to be taken before you get to that point. If you can, drive outside of the busiest drive times, basically from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m, Of course, most drivers can’t do that, or there wouldn’t be a rush hour in the first place.
What can be done?
Carpool. Although the carpool lane ends prior to the bridge crossing into Washington, it runs through north Portland long enough to save some real time. It avoids the slow points where traffic merges onto I-5, and can knock 10 minutes off a commute from downtown to Vancouver.
Take the other bridge crossing. You can go over the Glenn Jackson Bridge, which is also I-205, the east side looping freeway. If you are starting your trip south of Portland, taking I-205 around the city can save time, although it has slow points too. The rush hour on I-205, for the most part, starts later and ends earlier than I-5 going up.
What about getting to I-205 if you are already in north Portland? You can go east on I-84, or Marine Drive. But if you are taking Marine Drive, be aware that by the time you get that far up, you are already close to the I-5 bridge, so you might as well stay with it. You can, however, go a few blocks east of downtown and take Martin Luther King Blvd up to Marine Drive, then go east from there.
You can also skip some of the I-5 backup by using Interstate Avenue, but again, you must get on I-5 to cross the Columbia River into Vancouver.
Listening to traffic reports is helpful too. Sometimes traffic reports seem only to tell you the reason why you are stuck. But if you get a heads-up early enough, you can decide to go to the other bridge. Once you are, say past Columbia Blvd heading north, you might as well stay on I-5. When I worked out of an office in Portland and had Vancouver work to go to, traffic reports were a must.
Perhaps the most important thing you can do to ease the drive on I-5 is to put pressure on political leaders to go ahead with plans for a new bridge. Planning is underway now. Politics being what they are, the final design isn’t set.
Estimated to cost $3.6 billion, the current proposal would replace the existing twin three-lane drawbridges across the Columbia with 10 lanes, extend Portland’s light-rail transit system to Vancouver and improve five miles of I-5 between state Highway 500 and Marine Drive in Portland.
Portland and Vancouver represent two different approaches to growth. Portland restricts growth in the urban boundary, and strives for livability. Vancouver, Washington is suburban sprawl writ large. And people living in both areas have different views of what a new bridge should be.
It’s imperative that a new crossing incorporate features that will benefit the entire region. Some want light rail stripped out, and that would be a mistake. A new crossing is the only real solution to avoiding traffic snarls if a person has to drive I-5 north.