POLITICAL TREMORS DURING THE FINAL PLANNING stages of any urban transportation project of this scale are hardly rare. But the political schism at the heart of the Columbia River Crossing is wide and deep, and nowhere is it more vividly displayed than in the debate over Hayden Island. Fundamentally, it’s a debate between state and local government over whom transportation projects should serve: the people driving on the roads, or the people living around them.

Effectively a 1,400-acre sandbar jackknifed into the Columbia River, Hayden Island has long been shaped primarily by the needs and desires of those on the roads. In 1928, as Highway 99 swelled with traffic between Seattle and Portland, the island sprouted one of the nation’s largest amusement parks, complete with four swimming pools, a dance pavilion for 2,500, and the Big Dipper, the “biggest roller coaster west of Chicago.” By the 1970s, the park was gradually supplanted by the Jantzen Beach SuperCenter, a mall that, over the past two decades, has bloated into an 80-acre collection of big-box stores fed by Washingtonians seeking to evade their state’s 8.2 percent retail sales tax. Adding to the attraction are Oregon’s lower cigarette taxes (84 cents less per pack) and more abundant video poker and lottery games. State-sponsored gaming in the 97217 zip code that encompasses the island came to $37 million last year, nearly twice that of Gresham, the closest competitor. Meanwhile, the Stateline Liquor Store rang up more sales than any other OLCC store in Oregon.

‘The citizens of this region have watched our two states discuss and plan for a new bridge for over 20 years … they expect us to proceed.’
—Governors Christine Gregoire and Ted Kulongoski

Yet surrounding the carnival of bars, restaurants, and chain stores bracketing i-5 are the 2,155 people who call Hayden Island home. To the east lies a quiet community of high-end waterfront condos and houses, floating homes, and yacht berths—its residents often sport the casual, ships-ahoy fashions to match. But along the northern shore is the equally picturesque, if more modest, Hayden Island Manufactured Home Community. Arguably the region’s most affordable waterfront living, the homes, mostly decades old, are flanked by well-tended gardens, mature trees, and jaunty ’70s-era carports. Many owners get around using walkers and electric scooters. All in all, the place has the ambience of a retirement community crossed with a scenic campground.

Having long lived with i-5 zooming through the island, the residents weren’t too concerned about a bigger freeway, at least at first, says Roger Staver, chairperson of the island’s neighborhood association, HiNoon. Their sensitivities were more attuned to issues like new condos poking through the island’s 45-foot height limit. But when developers proposed building a new Wal-Mart in their backyard in 2006, the islanders flexed their muscles for the first time. Sam Adams, then city commissioner, rushed to the rescue, slapping a moratorium on all new construction on Hayden Island, and the Portland Bureau of Planning began working with both the residents and the managers of the Jantzen Beach SuperCenter to craft a future vision for the island. As their planning commenced, the Crossing seemed like an opportunity: the arrival of the new, wider freeway would bring a light-rail line linking Hayden Island to Portland and Vancouver. And so, together, the islanders and the planners conceived the Hayden Island Plan, the community’s first blueprint for the future. At the center they envisioned a completely new future SuperCenter: an urban village with streets, à la Bridgeport Village, with both national retailers and an intimate neighborhood district of shops and new housing adjacent to the coming light-rail station.