Sunday, September 27, 2020
Sept. 27, 2020

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Resilient finance plan sought for Interstate 5 Bridge effort

By , Columbian staff reporter

The Columbia River Crossing project melted down in 2013 when the Washington Senate failed to provide $450 million in construction dollars.

A second effort to replace the Interstate 5 Bridge will try to avoid the same outcome by crafting a finance plan that would allow different components to be built in phases.

Travis Brouwer, the Oregon Department of Transportation’s assistant director for revenue, finance and compliance, told a bistate meeting of Washington and Oregon legislators Friday in Vancouver that the Columbia River Crossing suffered from what he called “a single point of failure.”

It didn’t matter that the federal government gave the project a green light for construction, the Federal Transit Administration was ready to kick in $850 million to extend light rail to Clark College, or the Oregon Legislature had approved $450 million for construction. When the Washington Senate balked at matching Oregon’s contribution, a single setback caused the project to unravel, after years of work and nearly $200 million spent.

Legislators from both states listened to Brouwer’s brief comment about financial resiliency and project phasing. The was no discussion, aside from Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, suggesting a future meeting of the 16-member committee be devoted to the topic.

Developing a sturdier finance plan is one of the many tasks facing the transportation departments from the two states.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown signed an agreement last month in Vancouver committing their states to work together to develop a finance plan and complete other assignments.

Earlier this year, the Washington Legislature passed a transportation budget that provided $17.5 million for a project office and $17.5 million for planning and pre-design of a new bridge.

The legislation directs the Washington State Department of Transportation to develop a finance plan by Dec. 1, 2020.

Bridge authority

The transportation bill also requires the I-5 Bridge project office to “study different governance structures for a bridge authority” that would jointly administer Columbia River bridges between the two states.

According to information presented Friday, the study will:

• Examine national examples of multistate transportation authorities, including their responsibilities and how they are structured.

• Review how Washington and Oregon currently manage bridge responsibilities.

• Identify key considerations for determining if these responsibilities would be best served through a bistate agreement, authority, interstate compact or other arrangement.

Rep. Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver, said the requirement was put into the bill because “we are in a different era than the era of past megaprojects.”

“We have bridges all up and down the Columbia River in various states of repair and with different ownerships,” she said.

Rivers said she supports taking a look at a new management structure.

“If we had done this 50 years ago, we might have more crossings between our fair states,” she said.