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News / Clark County News

Interstate 5 Bridge replacement project wins $600 million federal grant; $4 billion total now secured

By William Seekamp, Columbian staff writer
Published: December 15, 2023, 2:49pm

Christmas came early for the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program in the form of a $600 million federal grant, announced Friday by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The grant — the full amount program officials asked for — is the first significant federal investment in the program. Officials have now secured $4 billion for a project estimated to cost about $6 billion, although estimates range between $5 billion and $7.5 billion. The remaining money is anticipated to come from two other federal grants.

The federal investment in the program answers one major question: Can it win other federal grants after missing out on a large grant at the start of this year? Significant political capital was burned when in 2013 the Columbia River Crossing was killed by the Washington Senate, in an effort led by former state Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver.

“Today marks a mega win for the state of Washington: Finally, the 100-year-old I-5 Bridge is getting a federal down payment,” U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said in a statement.

Washington committed $1 billion to the latest project in 2022. Oregon matched it in 2023. Both states have authorized tolling, which is expected to contribute $1.1 billion to $1.6 billion. Construction on the new bridge is targeted to start in late 2025 or early 2026.

Questions and uncertainties remain about the bridge’s configuration — whether it will be stacked, side-by-side or a lift span — and if an agreement can be reached with river users impacted by the proposed 116 feet of vertical clearance on the replacement bridge. But it appears unlikely that much will prevent program officials from breaking ground.

“We definitely (will come to Vancouver), the question is when,” Cantwell told The Columbian. “I would come down and pop Champagne tonight if the mayor wanted me to.”

A new program

The Mega Grant is a relatively new stream of funding that was passed as part of the bipartisan infrastructure law. As chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, Cantwell authored the Mega Grant Program. As assistant majority leader, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., helped negotiate and pass the bipartisan law and fund the Mega Grant program.

“For decades, I have made clear to the people of Southwest Washington that I will stick by their side and fight for a new I-5 Bridge crossing — and today, I am proud to have delivered this funding for the I-5 Bridge Replacement Project to get us that much closer to the finish line,” Murray said in a statement.

In addition to the Mega Grant, replacement program officials have applied for $1.5 billion from the Federal Highway Administration’s Bridge Investment Program, also created as part of the bipartisan infrastructure law.

The $600 million Mega Grant award is more than double what the largest recipients of last year’s award received: $292 million to the Hudson Yards Project in New York and $250 million for the Brent Spence Bridge Corridor project, which will build a companion Brent Spence Bridge between Ohio and Kentucky.

There are strong similarities between the Brent Spence Bridge and the Interstate 5 Bridge, as they are both relatively old, bistate bridges that carry interstate traffic; the Brent Spence Bridge carries Interstates 75 and 71 over the Ohio River. The two states are working to build a new companion bridge for both interstates and shift local traffic onto the existing bridge.

In addition to the quarter-billion dollars from the Mega Grant, the Brent Spence Bridge Corridor project received $1.385 billion from the Bridge Investment Program grant for a total of $1.635 billion from the federal government. The project has an estimated cost of $3.6 billion.

Unlike the two vehicle bridges between Vancouver and Portland, there are six vehicle bridges and one pedestrian bridge connecting Cincinnati to Kentucky. Additionally, light rail is not included on the Brent Spence companion bridge.

The third large grant bridge replacement program officials are seeking is the Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment Grant program. Program officials are seeking $1 billion from it.

Community Funded Journalism logo

This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.

Columbian staff writer