White House sets aside $39 million for CRC work

Federal transit funds aimed at light rail portion of project

By Andrea Damewood, Columbian staff writer

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Feds: Light rail 'medium-high' priorty for CRC

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The White House says it has $39 million waiting for light rail on the Columbia River Crossing in next year’s budget, but only if plans stay on track.

In a press conference Tuesday, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood detailed President Barack Obama’s budget that includes $2.2 billion in recommended spending on 29 transit projects across the United States.

However, in a statement, the U.S. Department of Transportation said the $3.5 billion CRC will get the money only “if it meets the New Starts evaluation criteria in Fiscal Year 2013,” which starts Oct. 1.

The $39 million is a far cry from the full $850 million in federal New Starts transit money CRC is counting on to fund construction of light rail from Portland to Clark College. The CRC would also replace the Interstate 5 Bridge, improve bicycle and pedestrian facilities and update interchanges in Washington and Oregon.

Exactly how the money would be spent was not immediately available.

Additionally, the president’s plan must be approved by a partisan Congress, meaning the funding is far from certain.

But a CRC spokeswoman said the announcement of any funding consideration was “really positive.”

“It is extremely good news to have it in the president’s budget,” Anne Pressentin said.

The project’s financial plans call for about $100 million every year during construction, not a one-time $850 million grant.

The federal government ranks New Starts applicants based on a broad range of criteria, including ridership, local funding support, land use planning and other factors. Staff are working with the federal officials to meet those criteria, Pressentin said.

“That means we still have some work to do,” she said.

Pressentin said the project is planning to sign a full funding grant agreement with the Federal Transit Administration in 2013.

After the announcement, some observers on Twitter commented that the $39 million devoted to the CRC showed federal confidence in the project is wavering.

In its official assessment, the FTA gave the CRC light rail a priority ranking of medium-high.

“The $39 million at this point in the process shows the confidence of the federal government in the process and the project,” Pressentin said.

A federal rating of the project given in November 2011 gave the project an overall priority rating of medium-high, the same ranking assigned to many other projects that also were given funding Tuesday. The FTA said the justification rating of the CRC was also medium-high, but gave local financial commitment a rating of medium.

$100 million for TriMet

Also in the spending plans, LaHood announced $100 million for TriMet’s Portland-Milwaukie light rail project, which will create a new transit bridge over the Willamette River. The FTA is expected to pay $750 million, or about half the cost of constructing the 7.3-mile MAX Orange Line.

Andrea Damewood: 360-735-4542; http://www.twitter.com/col_cityhall;andrea.damewood@columbian.com.