With $3.5 billion committed to the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program from the state and the authorization of tolling on the Interstate 5 Bridge, program officials are turning to the federal government for the final $2.5 billion.
The replacement program asked for $600 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation Mega Grant, or 10 percent of the new bridge’s expected cost of between $5 billion and $7.5 billion, with the likeliest outcome being about $6 billion.
If awarded, it would mark a milestone for the replacement effort as the first significant federal investment in the project; a $1 million federal planning grant was awarded last October. Last year, the program asked for $750 million from the Bridge Investment Program but did not receive it.
The circumstances are different this year, however. Program Administrator Greg Johnson believes the replacement project will be more competitive this time around.
“We can never out-guess what our federal partners are going to do, but we think we are well positioned,” Johnson said. “We think we check all the boxes where we are competent, and we will see what they do.”
So far in 2023, Washington authorized tolling on the bridge, matching Oregon, and the Oregon Legislature allotted $1 billion to the replacement, matching Washington. If the replacement program stays on schedule, construction is expected to start in late 2025 or early 2026.
“Usually, the federal money likes to be the last in, and so here’s that piece of the program that’s showing them the states are committed and that they’ve put a significant contribution toward this program,” said Frank Green, assistant program administrator.
In addition to the Mega Grant, program officials intend to reapply for the Bridge Investment Program (which reopened last week) and apply for the Federal Transit Administration Capital Improvement Grant. Program officials are seeking $1 billion from each.
The largest Mega Grant awards in fiscal year 2022 were $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 I-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.
The Golden Gate Suspension Bridge Seismic Retrofit received $400 million from the Bridge Investment Grant, the second highest. Johnson said program officials talked with the Bay Area team and talked informally with the Brent Spence team about their applications.
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