The Columbia River Crossing’s financial prospects received a potential boost on Friday, as Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber set aside key funding for the project in his recommended two-year budget.
The Democrat’s proposed 2013-15 budget includes $450 million for the CRC. That’s roughly the share Oregon is expected to come up with as part of the project’s $3.5 billion price tag. CRC planners are banking on Washington lawmakers to commit about the same amount, though project leaders have suggested that may not have to come all at once.
Kitzhaber’s budget outline doesn’t guarantee funding for the CRC — far from it. That will ultimately be up to the Oregon Legislature, which convenes in January. Democrats will, however, control both the state Senate and House in the upcoming session.
Kitzhaber’s budget recommends that Oregon invest $450 million through “highway revenue bond proceeds.” That means the state would borrow the money, then pay it back gradually through a transportation-related revenue source, said Kitzhaber spokesman Tim Raphael. That may include vehicle registration fees in Oregon, for example, but the governor hasn’t specified where exactly that money should come from, Raphael said.
Outgoing Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire plans to release her budget proposal in mid-December, said spokesman Jason Kelly. He said she is weighing many competing priorities, but believes the CRC is critical to the entire state’s economy.
“The budget is still in development,” Kelly said. “(Gregoire) remains a strong supporter of the Columbia River Crossing.”
Washington and Oregon are expected to jointly pay about a third of the CRC’s total cost. Plans call for federal funding sources and tolling to cover the rest.
The project to replace the Interstate 5 Bridge, extend light rail into Vancouver and rebuild five miles of freeway still faces major financial questions. Earlier tolling and revenue projections were found to be unrealistically high. In November, Clark County voters rejected a sales tax measure that would have helped pay for the local operations cost of light rail — a crucial step in securing a key federal grant.
The CRC has spent more than $160 million in planning. Project leaders hope to begin major construction in late 2014.