Washington to donate $1 billion to replace Interstate 5 bridge

Washington lawmakers are set to set aside $1 billion to replace the Interstate 5 bridge at the Oregon border, delivering on their promise to make the first openings after killing off the latest proposed replacement almost ten years ago.

The award is part of a larger nearly $17 billion transportation package that lawmakers have been negotiating for months. Documents showing what will likely be the final framework of the package were released on Wednesday.

The package has yet to be put to a vote in the Washington Legislature and get Governor Jay Inslee’s signature, but officials in southwest Washington and Oregon are excited. If passed, it will be an important step in replacing the century-old bridge which has the potential to collapse in a major earthquake.

“It’s been a long time restarting the new I-5 bridge replacement effort,” said Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, noting that discussions to replace the bridge date back to the 1980s when she was a lawmaker. aid.

“I’m happy to have reached this milestone and look forward to the innovation-focused work ahead in 2025,” she added.

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FILE – In this August 4, 2011 file photo, taken in Portland, Oregon, traffic crosses the Interstate 5 bridge spanning the Columbia River between Oregon and Washington.

Don Ryan/AP

Washington’s attribution is slightly lower than expected. Plans had been put in place for the state to donate another $200 million. Cleveland blamed the shortfall on the last-minute scramble to rewrite part of the package, after a controversial export tax idea went up in smoke.

“So the project had to be adjusted down,” Cleveland said in a text message.

The replacement of the bridge has an estimated price between $3.2 billion and $4.8 billion. Washington’s share is part of a three-pronged funding plan, with money from Oregon and the federal government also expected to cover costs.

Oregon lawmakers working closely on the replacement could not say how they intended to offer their part. While Salem lawmakers adjourned last weekend and won’t meet again until 2023, they said they were ready.

“Having said that, ‘Oregon, it’s your turn. It’s your time,’ said Rep. Susan McLain, D-Hillsboro. “Washington has started this process and now it’s important for us to engage.”

Oregon passed a transportation package as recently as 2017. Meanwhile, tolls have been a common, yet controversial, issue that remains on how to pay for the bridge.

Once both states are at the table, they hope to avail themselves of an unprecedented amount of federal money. The US government’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure program, passed in January, provides about $40 billion for bridges.

In Vancouver, where the bridge stretches to Washington, Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle likened the impending legislative vote to a goal kick still in the air, sailing towards the goal post but not yet through. She called him a “nail biter”.

“When you build something like that, it’s like building the Bonneville Dam,” she said.

For Washington lawmakers to deposit the first dollars was an understood, if informal, agreement between them and their Oregon peers, after an infamous fallout the last time they tried to replace the bridge.

In 2013, after years of planning for the project known as the Columbia River Crossing, the Washington State Senate declined to pass a funding package to replace the bridge.

“We felt a little left out,” McLain said. “We worked very hard to put our package together, and yet this time they come first. They want to show us that they are serious.

The plans then fell dormant, but the need persisted. The bridge is a major bottleneck for interstate travel on the West Coast. In 2019, more than 143,000 vehicles crossed the bridge daily, according to the Washington and Oregon Departments of Transportation.

While Washington’s funding is a milestone for the project, officials said, there are still many miles to go.

According to D-Vancouver Rep. Sharon Wylie, plans will now accelerate to initiate final decisions on other important aspects of the bridge. Questions persist, such as whether it will be a double-decker bridge, how many lanes it can have, how it will connect to Hayden Island, and what kind of transit options it can include.

Staff from the Interstate Bridge Replacement Project, an administrative team led jointly by the two states’ Departments of Transportation, also gathered community feedback on the potential impacts of a major bridge overhaul.

“We’re going to have to be in a pretty good spot to leverage the fed dollars to get the job done,” Wylie said.

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