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Dec. 9, 2019

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Oregon kicks in $9 million for I-5 Bridge replacement

Transportation commission bumps up suggested $5 million contribution to send ‘message’ about project’s importance

By , Columbian staff reporter
Published: August 16, 2019, 2:05pm

Oregon has provided $9 million toward operating an office to replace the Interstate 5 Bridge.

The Oregon Transportation Commission, meeting Friday in Ashland, Ore., increased a proposed $5 million contribution to underscore the project’s importance and to come closer to the Washington Legislature’s $35 million contribution earlier this year.

“I just want to make sure we are sending a message of interest and moving forward on this,” said Bob Van Brocklin, vice chairman of the five-member commission. “And not just a message to our partner state, but a message to our citizenry that we recognize this a major piece, a major element, of congestion relief.”

The 2019 Washington Legislature allocated $17.5 million for a project office and $17.5 million for planning and pre-design of a new bridge.

Friday’s decision is another indication that both states are ramping up their efforts to replace the aging bridge, which consists of two spans that opened in 1917 and 1958.

The project is being resurrected after the Washington Senate in 2013 walked away from funding the Columbia River Crossing project. That nondecision effectively killed the multiyear effort to replace the bridge, upgrade freeway interchanges and extend light-rail transit into Vancouver.

The $9 million will come from additional federal dollars coming to Oregon as part of budget deals Congress and the White House reached in the 2018 and 2019 fiscal years.

Travis Brouwer, assistant director of the Oregon Department of Transportation, told the transportation commission that the state expects to receive an additional $25 million to $30 million but won’t know the precise amount until late August.

“Those funds need to be immediately obligated,” he said. “We get a week or two to find a home for them.”

By approving the $9 million, the commission is following direction from Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, as outlined in a March 20 letter to Chairwoman Tammy Barney.

“The bridge is a seismic risk, a freight bottleneck, a barrier to effective public transportation and a source of some of the worst gridlock in the nation,” Brown wrote. “Its current condition poses a threat to Oregon’s economic vitality and is negatively impacting the livability of our state.”

Friday’s decision also will put Washington and Oregon in better position to receive a second extension on repaying about $140 million in federal funds spent on the Columbia River Crossing.

The two states faced an initial Sept. 30, 2014, deadline to get the project underway. The federal government already agreed to a five-year extension, which means the two states would be obligated to repay that money if efforts to replace the bridge were not renewed by Sept. 30.

Roger Millar, Washington transportation secretary, and Paul Mather, Oregon Department of Transportation deputy director, sent a letter to the Federal Highway Administration Friday pointing out recent progress toward reviving the project.

“With these commitments, leadership in both states have acknowledged and directed resources toward replacing the Interstate Bridge since it is a critical project for the citizens of both Oregon and Washington,” the two transportation officials wrote in their letter

The letter requests a second 10-year extension, until Sept. 30, 2029, to start construction on the megaproject.

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