The Oregon Legislature’s Joint Interim Committee on Ways and Means — its budget-writing committee — on Wednesday authorized the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program to apply for a $1.2 billion federal grant. It’s a small but important step forward in replacing the bridges that carry Interstate 5 over the Columbia River.
The Bridge Investment Grant, created as part of the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure law, is the largest of the three federal grants program officials are hoping to tap. Program officials expect the three grants to make up $2.5 billion of the replacement program’s estimated $6 billion price tag.
The other $3.5 billion has already been committed: $1 billion each from Oregon and Washington; $1.24 billion in tolls, which both states have authorized; and existing state funding.
Ways and Means reviews state agency requests for federal grants. During the interim committee’s last meeting in late September, the group retroactively approved the bridge replacement program’s application for $600 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation Mega Grant.
Committee members this week were largely supportive, but a handful raised concerns. Sen. Lynn Findley, R-Vale, said that although he wants the replacement program to win federal grants, he is concerned by the number of uncertainties.
“I want to get on the federal money, but I don’t want to give a perception of a green light when I think there’s some big flashing red beacons that scare the heck out of me,” Findley said, “on the height, on the approach path for the Portland International Airport, on the navigability of the river in the future and the capacity of the bridge and what we’re going to spend: $6 billion for three through lanes of traffic when we have that now.”
Second time’s the charm
The replacement program asked for $750 million from the Bridge Investment Program last year but did not receive it.
The two primary changes that prompted replacement program officials to increase the request by nearly $500 million are the replacement program’s cost estimate increasing from about $4 billion to $6 billion — the cost could range between $5 billion and $7.5 billion — and what comparable projects received from the first round of funding last year.
The largest 2022 Bridge Investment Grant awards were $1.385 billion to the Brent Spence Bridge Corridor project, which will build a companion Brent Spence Bridge between Ohio and Kentucky, and $400 million to the Golden Gate Suspension Bridge Seismic Retrofit in California’s San Francisco Bay Area.
There are strong similarities between the Brent Spence Bridge and the Interstate 5 Bridge. Both are relatively old, bistate bridges that carry interstate traffic; the Brent Spence Bridge carries Interstates 75 and 71 over the Ohio River. Ohio and Kentucky are working to build a new companion bridge for both interstates and shift local traffic onto the existing bridge.
Unlike the two vehicle bridges between Vancouver and Portland, there are six vehicle bridges and one pedestrian bridge connecting Cincinnati to Kentucky. Light rail is not included on the Brent Spence companion bridge.
In addition to receiving $250 million 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.
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