The Interstate 5 Bridge replacement is expected to cost $5.5 billion to $7.5 billion, with $6 billion being the likeliest outcome, according to Greg Johnson, Interstate Bridge Replacement Program administrator.
The cost estimate, announced on Friday, represents the plan endorsed by the program’s eight partner agencies in July. The program’s previous estimate of $3.2 billion to $4.8 billion was based the abandoned Columbia River Crossing plan. Inflation is the primary driver of the increased price.
“Construction projects across the country are experiencing unprecedented cost increases due to supply chain issues and increasing material and labor costs as well as other factors, and our program is no exception,” Johnson said.
The increased cost was not a shock to Johnson because of how severe inflation is.
The high end of the spectrum represents if things go wildly out of control, for example, if permits are not granted by their targeted date or if contractors run into unidentified risks and problems. The biggest thing the program can do to avoid the high end of the cost estimate is to stay on schedule, Johnson said.
Program administrators have identified a range of $5.2 billion to $6.5 billion in funding. Major chunks include $2 billion total from Washington and Oregon, $1.25 billion to $1.6 billion from tolling and $1.7 billion to $2.7 billion in federal grants.
Johnson believes the program will receive federal funding close to the full request because of the importance of Interstate 5. The freeway connects Canada to Mexico through major cities including Seattle and Los Angeles and is used to transport goods up and down the West Coast. He added that the program will not ask the states for more than $2 billion.
If it looks like costs are trending toward the higher end of the spectrum, the program managers could reduce the scope of the project, although they believe it is extremely unlikely.
The new estimated cost of the project is more than double the Columbia River Crossing’s estimated $2.8 billion price tag. That project was killed when in 2013 the Washington Senate declined to approve the state’s share of the funding in a rebellion led by former Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, and Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center.
“This is what happens when projects get delayed,” Johnson said. “They don’t become cheaper … if we continue to delay, if we continue to just talk about it and not do it, then we will see more cost increases as we go forward.”
Johnson noted that the project has changed since the CRC too, with the North Portland Harbor Bridge slated to be replaced, not just receive a seismic retrofit.
The program also announced that planners are also studying more than one auxiliary lane — hearing the concerns primarily stemming from the Washington side.
“This is a window of opportunity with federal dollars available to lessen the burden on future generations as we move this forward,” Johnson said.
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