Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney isn’t on board with convening a special session this year to approve Oregon money for the Columbia River Crossing project, he announced Wednesday.
If Oregon legislators wait until next year’s regular legislative session to take up the issue, however, it will delay the CRC’s construction start date, CRC spokeswoman Mandy Putney said, and that would increase project costs.
Although Washington state lawmakers didn’t commit money to the CRC this year, prompting Oregon and Washington governors to declare the Interstate 5 Bridge replacement project dead, CRC supporters are pushing a new scaled-back plan that has Oregon taking the lead.
But Courtney, D-Salem, said in his statement on Wednesday that more dialogue and public hearings are necessary before Oregon legislators move ahead.
“We need to see if we can find a way to do this without putting Oregon taxpayers at risk and without alienating a certain portion of the state of Washington,” Courtney said. “We should not predetermine the outcome of this process. If we take it up again, we should wait until the Legislature comes back into its regularly scheduled session on Feb. 3.”
Early this year, before Washington lawmakers left Olympia without saying yes to the CRC, Oregon legislators passed a bill committing the state’s $450 million share to the project. However, that money was contingent on Washington state doing the same by Sept. 30.
“On just the 28th day of the 2013 legislative session, the Oregon Senate gave final approval to the plan to build a new bridge over the Columbia River on I-5,” Courtney said. “It was a huge achievement that needed to be accomplished. … That plan fell through when the Washington Legislature chose not to become equal partners.”
The revised Oregon-led plan would still build a new Interstate 5 Bridge over the Columbia with light rail and tolls, but would not immediately include any freeway work north of state Highway 14. The revised CRC would cost an estimated $2.7 billion. Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, who has the authority to call a special session, is a CRC supporter and has said he is open to bringing lawmakers back to Salem for the CRC.
An effort to reach Kitzhaber’s office Wednesday for a comment was unsuccessful.
If Oregon legislators approve state money for the CRC in a special session this fall, then the CRC could remain on track to start construction in late 2014, Putney said. Project planners can’t apply for a federal grant until state money is secured, and they had hoped federal CRC money would be included this winter in the President Barack Obama’s 2014 budget.
CRC supporters had long said that the project would be set back at least a decade if Oregon and Washington lawmakers failed to commit money for the proposed bridge this year. Now, project leaders have apparently backed away from that stance.
Delaying the federal grant application process means the CRC could be pushed behind other national transportation projects also vying for a limited pot of federal dollars, Putney said. If the delay lasted a year, that would add an estimated $50 million to $70 million to project costs, she added.
“A large part of that is the inflation of material costs — steel and concrete and labor costs — as well as some staff time to keep the project moving, and update permits and plans to the new schedule,” she said.
Complicating matters, construction in the Columbia River can only be performed during a six-month window each year because of salmon protection rules, she said.
Putney said CRC supporters plan to inform Oregon legislators about the costs of delaying action on a new I-5 bridge.