Agency has Columbia River Crossing funding concerns

By Andrea Damewood, Columbian staff writer

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One of the agencies that signed off on plans for the Columbia River Crossing has also expressed its concerns about how the project is going to pay for itself.

The Southwest Washington Regional Transportation Council gave its approval to the CRC’s Final Environmental Impact Statement last week, but included two amended statements expressing its worries about the $2.63 billion to $3.76 billion project’s finances.

The board said an investment grade analysis is “necessary” to quelling its “concerns regarding cost-sharing, project costs and potential project phasing.”

It also said that it has worries over the equity of the financing plan — which currently calls for a three-way split between the federal government, Oregon and Washington, and local tolling — saying it is “not supportive” of any changes to the CRC’s plans that would “further burden local project users.”

The agency’s concerns come on the heels of a report released by the Oregon State Treasurer last month saying that overinflated traffic projections caused the project planners to overestimate its toll revenue by up to $600 million. The Columbian also reported last month that several federal representatives and state legislators have expressed reservations about being able to find money in the current economic climate.

The treasurer’s report said that most of the difference in tolling shortfalls can be made up with low-interest federal loans and by completing the five-mile Interstate 5 megaproject in phases.

But the project’s financial plans say: “If no or insufficient money of highway discretionary funds are secured for the project, additional capital funds would be required from state sources and/or tolling.”

Clark County Commissioner and RTC member Steve Stuart said that highlights “significant unresolved” issues regarding the CRC’s financing.

Any changes that make tolls more costly for local residents is “unacceptable to RTC and unacceptable to me,” he said Friday.

“The commitment has been a 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 split,” Stuart said. “If you start changing the financing plan, you will end up increasing the proportional share of local dollars. It’s not a sliding scale — that you get to lay more toward the local share if you can’t get state and federal dollars.”

RTC Executive Director Dean Lookingbill said the concerns weren’t enough to keep the board from signing off on the Final Environmental Impact Statement, but the amendments will keep financial considerations on the table.

“We are saying we now have a project,” he said. “Clearly there’s a lot of specifics, like design and the financial portion, that need to be resolved.”

Lookingbill said the CRC has already incorporated the Oregon Treasurer’s recommendations into the FEIS.

The RTC is the metropolitan planning organization for the Clark County portion of the larger Portland/Vancouver urbanized area. It and C-Tran are the two Southwest Washington signatories to the Final Environmental Impact Statement.

In Portland, Metro and TriMet sign the FEIS, along with the Oregon and Washington departments of transportation.

Once all the agencies approve the document, the CRC will send it to the federal highway and transit authorities, who then provide a record of decision that will allow the project to begin seeking funding. Officials have said they hope to get federal approval by the end of the year, and break ground in 2013.

C-Tran’s meeting to approve the final impact statement will be at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Fisher’s Landing Transit Center, 3510 S.E. 164th Ave.

Andrea Damewood: 360-735-4542 or andrea.damewood@columbian.com or www.facebook.com/reporterdamewood or www.twitter.com/col_cityhall