Oregon will spend $9 million on the newly revived effort to replace the Interstate Bridge over the Columbia River, a decision officials say is intended to show the state’s growing commitment to the once moribund project.
Top transportation decisionmakers approved a plan Friday to direct a large share of unanticipated federal money toward the bridge project.
The funding plan comes days after Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek and Senate President Peter Courtney appointed a new joint state committee to oversee the bridge effort.
Thanks to congressional budget deals funneling more money toward infrastructure in the past two years, Oregon again expects to receive anywhere from $25 million to $30 million in federal dollars not accounted for during the state’s four-year transportation capital spending plan.
Travis Brouwer, Oregon’s assistant transportation director, told the state transportation commission the excess money comes at “an excellent time,” as the state faces a looming Sept. 30 deadline to show the federal government it’s serious about reviving bridge talks with Washington. If Oregon and Washington don’t show that progress, a $140 million bill for previous planning costs tied to the failed Columbia River Crossing project comes due.
Brouwer said using the unanticipated federal money on the bridge is a concrete sign the restart is serious. “That would allow us to go to the Federal Highway Administration and say, ‘We are making good faith efforts to move this project forward,’” he said.
State transportation commissioners agreed and voted to up the ante.
Transportation officials presented commissioners with a proposal to spend $5 million in the next year on the bridge discussions, but outgoing board chair Tammy Baney suggested that might not be enough.
Bob Van Brocklin, a Portland attorney recently named chair of the commission, said he agreed that wasn’t sufficient.
Van Brocklin pointed out that Washington lawmakers recently committed $35 million to create a new joint office dedicated to the bridge project, spilt evenly over a two-year period.
What Oregon and Washington spent on the Columbia River Crossing
Here's what Oregon and Washington's transportation departments spent during a roughly decade long period ending in 2013 and 2014 on the failed project to build a new bridge on I-5 spanning the Columbia River.
- ODOT: $105.7 million
- WSDOT: $94.1 million
- Total: $199.8 million
- Federal Money Potentially Owed
- ODOT: $93.3 million
- WSDOT: $46.1 million
- State Money Spent on CRC
- ODOT: $12.4 million
- WSDOT: $48 million
“It seemed to me that might be a better number,” Van Brocklin said of $9 million, pointing out it was roughly half of Washington’s commitment for the first year.
He said the money sends a message to Washington state and to Oregon residents that the state’s top transportation leaders recognize the bridge is a “major element” in the region’s congestion woes.
Transportation officials said the $9 million would help planners evaluate whether the past environmental assessment work is still viable, start assessing the next steps on financing a new bridge project and dive back into technical issues surrounding the complex two-state effort.
Friday afternoon, Oregon and Washington transportation leaders sent a letter to their federal counterparts formally asking to extend the deadline to show progress on a bridge project. “Since our last correspondence on this subject, both states have shown a clear commitment to advance efforts to replace the Interstate Bridge across the Columbia River,” the states wrote. “With these commitments, leadership in both states have acknowledged and directed resources toward replacing the Interstate Bridge since it is a critical project for the citizens of both Oregon and Washington.”
They’re seeking a 10-year extension, meaning the states would have until Sept. 30, 2029 to either start acquiring right of way as part of a bridge construction project or repay the federal government the $140 million.
Oregon also plans to spend $300,000 from the federal money on a plan to study a different bottleneck on the I-5 corridor: The Boone Bridge near Wilsonville. That money will help kickstart efforts to seismically retrofit that bridge and “study widening” it, documents show.
Commissioners also approved a plan to spend $2 million on increased outreach and studies of the effort to charge drivers to use sections of I-5 and I-205 in the metro area.
The federal money will also fund $3.5 million toward a broader effort to replace the 44 electric vehicle charging stations across the state with faster charging systems. Another $2 million will be spent on revamping curb ramps across the state, part of a five-year plan required under a legal settlement.