At the request of Washington and Oregon, the Federal Highway Administration has granted a five-year extension on the money it doled out for the now defunct Columbia River Crossing project.
The extension means the two states won’t immediately have to repay tens of millions of dollars they were given for the proposed Interstate 5 Bridge replacement. Federal rules require a project receiving federal aid to begin right-of-way acquisition or construction within 10 years, or pay the money back. Washington received its first federal funds for the CRC in 2004; Oregon got its first allocation in 2007.
Now, both states will have until Sept. 30, 2019 to come up with something to show for that money. The extension was granted in a Sept. 19 letter from the Washington and Oregon heads of the Federal Highway Administration.
“During the extension period, we will continue to work with (both state transportation departments) and others on resolving the remaining challenges and moving forward with the construction of transportation improvements that meet the purpose and need underlying the CRC project,” the letter read.
A federal highway representative couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday.
Despite the request, both states say the status of the CRC hasn’t changed. The $2.9 billion project completely shut down in May, without any funding or enough political support from either state’s legislature. The former downtown Vancouver project office has been vacant since.
“At this point, the project has been closed out, and we have no plans to restart it,” said Travis Brouwer, assistant director of the Oregon Department of Transportation. “Until Washington takes action, Oregon has no intention of restarting the project.”
Washington State Department of Transportation spokesman Lars Erickson said his agency still considers the CRC closed.
“The status has not changed,” Erickson said. “The project is in the books for us.”
Both states, however, appear to be holding out hope that the CRC could restart someday. Washington Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson had argued the state should have 20 years to start construction because it used federal funds on a conservation easement 2012. ODOT Director Matthew Garrett separately asked for a 10-year extension for his state, saying in a letter to federal officials that the CRC had been delayed because of Washington’s inaction. Garrett’s letter didn’t mention that an Oregon-only version of the CRC died in the Oregon Legislature earlier this year.
“The need for this important multimodal project has not diminished, and grows with every passing day,” Garrett wrote. “I hope that our past and deliberate progress in Oregon has demonstrated our commitment to this nationally significant project.”
The Federal Highway Administration didn’t fully grant either state’s request. Instead, it granted the five-year extension to 2019.
Washington and Oregon could be on the hook for a substantial amount of money if they’re forced to repay. Federal officials earlier indicated that the two states had received a combined $187.5 million for the CRC as of April 2013. More than $100 million of that went to Oregon.
The CRC spent $200 million in planning by the time the project folded. The shutdown came after years of delays, setbacks and missteps, and sharp political acrimony.
The project would have replaced the I-5 Bridge between Portland and Vancouver, rebuilt freeway interchanges and extended light rail into Vancouver.