Tom Warne Report, 18 August 2013
PORTLAND, Ore. – Washington lawmakers’ refusal to front their $450 million share of the I-5 bridge replacement between Portland and Vancouver seems to be clinging to life, even as the project’s office is preparing to shut down. Planners are requesting a permit from the Coast Guard in hopes of building a bridge that could be constructed without any funding from Washington, if Oregon legislators agree.
“The need didn’t go away,” said bridge official Patricia McCraig. Oregon lawmakers have agreed to put $450 million into the project, and if Washington lawmakers had agreed to do the same, the rest of the $3.4 billion cost would have come from federal grants and toll revenue.
Oregon’s funding commitment expires on Sept. 30, but there is potential that a special session could convene to alter the state’s funding commitment to allow the state to afford the project without help from Washington. A bridge permit would need to be issued by the Coast Guard by mid-October to allow the application for federal funding.
McCraig said minimal revisions to the project would still allow it to qualify for federal funds, particularly $850 for light rail. One revised proposal involves making highway improvements in Oregon, a bridge connecting to Highway 14 in Washington via an upgraded interchange. To help with funding, Oregon would issue $1.3 billion in bonds, and keep all toll revenue without funds from Washington.
Any possibility to take advantage of the $170 million already spent on the project over the past decade in permits, technical work and environmental requirements should be considered, McCraig said.