Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include Washington House’s passage of tolling measure.
With each passing month, the picture of the replacement Interstate 5 Bridge becomes clearer.
From the broad strokes of what the replacement will look like with the adoption of the initial replacement plan last July to fleshing out some of the details with the recent release of the financial plan, the program’s image is coming into focus.
Embedded in the financial plan is the most detailed look to date about funding, construction and what the replacement project itself will look like.
Program officials have divided the project into four sections: the bridge replacement and approaches, transit investments and Oregon and Washington interchanges.
In terms of construction, Program Administrator Greg Johnson anticipates focusing on the replacement bridge before working on the bulk of the interchange improvements.
“It’ll look like building out from the middle, with the bridge being the middle and then slowly start going both south and north from there,” Johnson said. “It’s a complex dance of construction activities.”
The financial plan has the replacement bridge opening in 2033.
Another priority is for light rail to be operational while the outer parts of the program area are under construction, allowing those looking to get across the river another option.
A two-bridge stacked configuration, as opposed to everything being on one level like the current I-5 Bridge, is assumed.
The financial plan anticipates that the first significant chunk of money, $250 million, will be received in state fiscal year 2026. The program expects another $482 million in fiscal year 2027, before hovering between $815 million and $900 million each fiscal year from 2029 to 2032, before dropping to $630 million in 2033 and $245 million in 2034.
Rather than an even flow from each funding source over the course of the project, funding sources and amounts fluctuate.
The expected primary funding source from fiscal year 2026-29 are three federal grants. Toll bond funding is expected to make up a bulk of the funding in fiscal years 2030 and 2031. More than 65 percent of funding from both states is expected to be used from fiscal year 2032-34.
Funding is calculated in the year of expenditure dollars, meaning, for example, that funding in 2030 is projected in 2030 dollars, not 2023 dollars.
When program officials applied for $750 million from the Federal Highway Administration’s Bridge Investment Program last August, they used the high end of their then-estimated price tag of $3.2 billion to $4.8 billion cost.
Since then, the estimated cost has been updated to $6 billion with a range of $5 billion to $7.5 billion, however, the program will be using the $6 billion figure as opposed to $7.5 billion when applying for federal grants.
Tolling on the current I-5 Bridge is expected to start in 2026, with officials anticipating it will be toll-free between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m., in an attempt to avoid situations where drivers would pay a toll and experience a construction delay.
The replacement bridge is expected to be tolled around the clock, however.
Two tolling scenarios were discussed in the financial plan. Scenario A assumed rates between $3 and $3.55 between 5 a.m. and 11 p.m. and a minimum overnight toll of $2.15 per trip, once the replacement bridge is complete.
Scenario B assumed rates between $2.05 and $3.15 over the same time period and a minimum overnight toll of $1.50 on the replacement bridge.
In both scenarios, the rates would increase by 2.15 percent annually to keep pace with general price inflation.
The final decision on the start date will be set by a bi-state agreement and rate by the Oregon and Washington transportation commissions.
With light rail planned to extend to Evergreen Boulevard in Vancouver, where trains would be stored overnight and whether the Evergreen station would be elevated became points of disagreement between officials in Vancouver and the bridge replacement.
According to the financial plan, program officials are planning to add an overnight storage facility at the Expo Center in Portland, not Vancouver, and the Evergreen Boulevard station will be at-grade, not elevated.
The document also said a potential underground parking garage that could accommodate 700 parking spaces near Evergreen Boulevard and an elevated waterfront station could provide up to 570 parking spaces, although neither would be ideal.
“Parking is a nonproductive urban space eater,” Johnson said. “There may be a need for some park and ride spaces, but we’re not trying to create these tremendous mausoleums of parking spaces all over the place.”
Although the image continues to become clearer, major decisions like whether Washington authorizes tolling, Oregon funds the project and if the program hits its targeted $2.5 billion in federal funds — it missed out on its last application — remain.
Both legislatures are active: Both houses of the Washington Legislature have passed a bill authorizing tolling, and a draft policy bill was introduced to the Oregon Legislature’s Joint Committee on Transportation. Both are practically essential to receive federal funds.
“The states coming to the table in this significant way demonstrates to our federal partners that we are serious this time about getting this thing done,” Johnson said.
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