Southwest Washington lawmakers have received a sneak peek of construction sequencing for the Columbia River Crossing — a look that for some of them raised more questions than answers about traffic, timing and financing.
A new map presented to the Southwest Washington Regional Transportation Council by CRC Director Nancy Boyd last week shows a timeline of which tasks will be tackled first.
Plans show the CRC starting with a new Interstate 5 bridge and light rail. The cost is expected to be $2.05 billion and construction will last at least six years. The rest of the work — including three interchanges in Vancouver and the bulk of the work on Hayden Island — will span the next seven or more years.
The phasing, Boyd said, more accurately represents the incremental way that money will flow from the states and federal government.
But just when the construction is set to start isn’t clear. Project documents still show 2013 as the start date, a figure that Boyd told the group March 22 is not correct.
Both the Oregon and Washington legislatures punted on committing any construction financing during their sessions this year, signaling an obvious delay in breaking ground.
“It’s OK we don’t have construction money yet,” Boyd told members of the RTC, who gathered along with a surprising number of elected officials who aren’t on the board, including Republican
state Reps. Ann Rivers and Paul Harris. “We’re two years away from being able to start that sort of work.”
The CRC will meet with legislative oversight committees from both states to update its assumptions on phasing and financing, Boyd said.
“We’re looking to (lawmakers) to help us guide our assumptions to let us know what funding we can anticipate and when,” she said.
No construction yet
The Columbia River Crossing cannot put out a construction bid for any phase of the project without a monetary commitment from the states, the federal government and local tolling, she said.
Oregon and Washington will share bridge construction costs, but each is on the hook for highway improvements on their respective sides of the river. The cost to redo Washington’s interchanges will be $435 million, while Oregon will have to come up with $595 million to pay for its improvements.
Phasing the project over a span of seven or more years will certainly add to the cost of the project, but Boyd said that without set financing plans, “we don’t know what to assume in terms of construction funding.”
Rivers said that a new Washington transportation revenue package in 2013 isn’t a slam dunk.
“I’m not going to say whether or not that will happen, but I’m sure not going to bet the rent on it,” Rivers said. “I question the ability of the people of this state to be able to pony up next year.”
Still, she didn’t fault the CRC for keeping “the most optimistic time line possible” — that’s their job. “It’s up to us as elected officials and citizens to decide the pragmatism of the timeline.”
The first construction package will bring the most impact to downtown Vancouver — a subject that Boyd said she knows is a sore one among some business owners.
She said that her staff will be working to set out a construction plan that takes into account building around a business’s busiest time of year, and keeping at least one lane of traffic open for access.
Battle Ground City Councilor Shane Bowman said he was afraid that expanding the bridge while its interchanges remain feeble could create an even greater chokepoint at the state line.
“It seems like we’re having a heart attack and we’re going to clear an artery on our leg,” Bowman said.
The way construction engineers have designed sequencing will create incremental improvements, and certainly won’t make traffic worse, Boyd responded.
Shumway Neighborhood Association President Anne McEnerny-Ogle, who also attended the March 22 RTC meeting, said the new map doesn’t create any stability for those who will lose their homes as part of improvements at Highway 500 and I-5.
Neighbors were told more than a year ago that their homes were subject to acquisition, and since then, they haven’t heard when that will happen, she said. Decisions about whether to make repairs or other choices remain opaque.
“They’re in limbo, and that’s unsatisfying,” said McEnerny-Ogle, who has long criticized project staff for poor communication with neighborhoods. “A lot of them are waiting and a lot of them are so frustrated.”
Boyd said staff will present the timeline to any group that asks. She also said that the project is drafting a property acquisition timeline to go with the construction phasing, adding that property that’s needed in the first phases will be purchased first.
Though the CRC’s timeline is marked with a large asterisk proclaiming plans are “subject to change,” the new map offers the first glimpse into where and when concrete will be poured, piles driven and rebar installed — and that construction will be staggered, not dropped in all at once.
Boyd called it “good planning work” that provides a backdrop for talks with residents and businesses — as well as with those holding the purse strings.
“It does help illustrate how things start to come together,” she said. “It puts it more toward reality.”