President Barack Obama announced Saturday that the Columbia River Crossing will be one of several transportation projects to be expedited by his "We Can't Wait" initiative.
The announcement, relayed in a joint statement by the governors of Washington and Oregon, was not accompanied by any specific financial commitment.
The governors said the designation is aimed at speeding up the $3.5 billion project, which would replace the aging Interstate 5 Bridge spans, extend Portland's light rail system into Vancouver and rebuild several interchanges and miles of freeway north and south of the Columbia River.
"President Obama's announcement today recognizes the importance the crossing has to the region and will help us expedite the needed federal permits," said Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire.
"This project will provide thousands of construction jobs, as well as long-term growth in one of the most trade-dependent areas of the United States," she said. "We are committed to taking the necessary steps to begin bridge construction in 2014."
The I-5 Bridge structures were built in 1917 and 1958. They do not meet safety or geometric standards, the governors said. They said I-5 carries more than $40 billion in freight each year between Canada and Mexico and is expected to carry $71 billion in 2030.
"President Obama's designation underscores the importance of the Columbia River Crossing project to the thousands of people who use it every day to keep our region's economy growing," said Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber in the release. "It highlights that the project is about more than connecting Vancouver and Portland, but about connecting small and large manufacturers and businesses -- from Hillsboro to Los Angeles, Seattle to Vancouver, Canada -- that depend on a reliable interstate system to move their goods," he said.
The federal support shows confidence that the project will get done, Kitzhaber said.
This was not the first high-level show of support for the project. In March, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said his department remains "totally committed" to the Columbia River Crossing.
"It's going to be a model for multimodal transportation," LaHood said at the time. "It's bistate, bipartisan … any way you can describe it, it's a great project."