Crossing project seems well positioned for Jobs Act funds

Obama report hails spending to ease traffic bottlenecks, boost transit

By Andrea Damewood, Columbian staff writer

Published:

Updated: November 2, 2011, 8:02 PM

 

The Obama administration released a report Wednesday detailing infrastructure investments that his American Jobs Act would bring — new bridges and expansion of public transit and highway capacity — all of which, without naming names, appears to have the Columbia River Crossing well positioned to vie for federal funding.

The report, which vaunts the economic benefit of government spending on roads, bridges and light rail, comes a day after the U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood told Portland’s KGW-TV that the money in the Jobs Act would be “major.”

Obama’s plan calls for a $50 billion investment in the nation’s transportation infrastructure and a $10 billion investment to create a bipartisan National Infrastructure Bank.

Among the report’s findings is that taxpayer money is well-spent clearing bottlenecks, fixing safety hazards, investing in public transit and maintaining existing infrastructure. Project officials have said the $3.1 billion-plus Interstate 5 project will alleviate congestion, reduce accidents and reconstruct a bridge that is seismically unsound.

 “(The report) names four areas that are exactly the same sorts of things we’re trying to address with our project,” CRC Director Nancy Boyd said Wednesday. “It’s very encouraging.”

Of course, that $50 billion in funding, and the entire Jobs Act, is a long way from a done deal. Republicans and even a few Democrats in Congress — who hold the keys to passing the $447 billion Jobs Act — have made it clear they’re not fans of the president’s plan.

The Jobs Act also does not yet include details like just how much money would be allotted for the CRC.

Obama has been conducting a tour of various American bridges and roadways, holding press conferences to sell his plan, calling upon Americans to put pressure on their representatives to see the bill passed. On Wednesday, he addressed those remarks to lawmakers at the Key Bridge in Washington D.C.

“Construction workers have been among the Americans hit hardest over the past few years,” the president said. “And that makes no sense when there’s so much of America that needs rebuilding. This week, Congress has the chance to do something about it and pass a bill that will put hundreds of thousands of construction workers back to work rebuilding our roads, bridges, airports and transit systems. It’s a bill that includes the kinds of ideas both parties have voted for in the past. It’s paid for, and its ideas are supported by an overwhelming majority of the American people. It’s time for Congress to act.”

The report points to projects already completed, including Portland’s 15- mile MAX Green Line light rail expansion to Clackamas Town Center. The CRC has asked for $850 million from the federal government to bring MAX into downtown Vancouver.

The Green Line light rail received $32 million from the first round of stimulus funds to help advance the project, which has $436.3 million in total federal commitment, with a Federal Transit Administration share of 76 percent.

“Portland’s transit network, with direct service to the downtown business district and attractions, helps to make this one of the most livable cities in America, offering affordable access to jobs, while spurring a healthy downtown core and continued economic development,” the report read.

The report also called for replacing bridges that have “become inadequate for transportation needs.”

Obama’s plan has changed slightly since he announced it in September, when the president called for a $140 billion infusion into America’s roads, bridges and schools.

Boyd said that was a sign that the administration has studied where money can go to best use. She also pointed to the 1,900 jobs the project is expected to create.

“The thing I liked about his report … is it made such a compelling and clear case about why it’s important to be strategic with our investments and focus on areas that are going to give high returns on their investment,” she said.

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