Oregon may scale back CRC spending

Some interchange work in Vancouver may also be built later

By Andrea Damewood, Columbian staff writer

Published:

Updated: January 20, 2012, 4:33 PM

 

A slimmed-down first phase of construction for the Columbia River Crossing could be in the works, according to information presented to Oregon legislators Thursday.

With financing for the megaproject still up in the air, project staff told a legislative committee in Salem that a first phase including construction of the bridge, light rail and interchanges at Hayden Island and state Highway 14 could be possible.

The other four interchange improvements on the five-mile corridor would come later. CRC spokeswoman Mandy Putney said it would be a “multi-phase” construction job.

Oregon would need to come up with $300 million, as would Washington. That would drop the initial commitment to $2.45 billion.

But the scramble to cut start-up costs could mean the CRC will be more expensive down the road.

Still, it could be the most pragmatic approach: Phasing plans take a “conservative view of potential funding sources, and what are the dollars that could be coming in early, and what are the dollars that could be coming in a second phase,” Putney said.

Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber requested the information on cost-cutting shortly after his treasurer highlighted a $600 million shortfall in tolling revenue forecasts — a price tag that could land in the states’ laps.

Washington lawmakers are also interested in the idea, which makes building the essentials — a bridge, light rail to Clark College, and the two landing points — possible.

Each state has been asked to contribute $450 million each, with an equal amount going toward bridge construction, but with each state responsible for highway improvements on their respective sides of the Columbia River.

Washington would pay for the state Highway 14, Mill Plain Boulevard, Fourth Plain and state Highway 500 interchanges. Oregon would be responsible for improvements at Hayden Island and Marine Drive.

At this point, Washington is still forging ahead with plans for a new transportation revenue package that includes the full $450 million, Washington State Department of Transportation Director Paula Hammond said.

Oregon, however, is trying to use existing money.

“The Oregon governor is trying to figure out, with the revenues that they have, how much do they need in that first investment phase,” Hammond said. “Our strategy is to get the full $450 million identified as the Legislature outlines spending plans … over 10 years.”

The talk is an extension of long-expected phasing plans for the construction of the CRC — documents have long shown that Highway 500 wasn’t likely to be included in the original build-out.

Initial news reports inaccurately described phasing as the elimination of plans to improve any interchanges beyond Highway 14 and Hayden Island.

That, Kitzhaber spokesman Tim Raphael said, isn’t the case.

“There’s no discussion on eliminating anything. We’re discussing options for phasing and sequencing elements,” Raphael said. “The governor believes we’re making great strides and is confident we’re going to get it built. He is working with the Legislature on securing the Oregon commitment.”

Washington lawmakers said Friday that it’s something they may want to do north of the river, as well.

“Phasing is something I want to learn a lot more about; it definitely piques my interest,” Rep. Ann Rivers (R- La Center) said. “I like the idea of pay-as-you-go and construction as money becomes available. It would be great if we could do the whole thing all at once, if money is raining from the sky. But it’s not.”

Bridge proponent Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, also said phasing is a likely fix.

“Phasing is probably not only prudent, but it’s the way to go as far as this bridge is concerned,” he said. “Even the CRC is acknowledging that at this point.”

Still, he said its best to get as much done as soon as possible in order to avoid the construction cost increases that inevitably come with delays.

“It doesn’t get any cheaper, that’s the thing,” Moeller observed. “You wait 10 years because you can’t afford it now …really? So you’ll be able to afford it in 10 years? When it’s double (the cost)?”

Hammond, the WSDOT director, said that even if all of the money came into place simultaneously, the CRC would be built in a sequence to keep traffic flowing and businesses open.

“You can’t construct all five miles at once; we would never build it in one contract,” she said. “But the cheapest way to do it is get your money lined up and build it as expeditiously as we can.”

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