Interstate 5 bridge project over Columbia River declared dead

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | 3/11/2014

A proposal to replace an Interstate 5 bridge over the Columbia River is dead after more than a decade of planning. The Oregon Legislature did not reinstate construction funds for the proposed joint venture with Washington state, thereby allowing the project to die on the vine.

“Expenditures will be reduced immediately; further design and deliverable development will not occur. The project will shut down completely by May 31, 2014,” Oregon Department of Transportation Director Matthew Garrett announced online Friday, March 7.

Garrett said the agency will keep all the paperwork on file in case someone revives the project in the future.

The Columbia River Crossing bridge replacement project was estimated at between $3 billion and $4 billion and would have been equipped for light rail and pedestrian walkways.

The kicker for long-haul truckers is the project would have relied heavily on tolls. Early proposals pegged the rate for five-axle trucks at $12 per trip, and the rate would have varied depending on traffic congestion. The more congested the roadway, the higher the toll rate.

OOIDA opposed various aspects of the project – tolls on an interstate bridge funded with federal tax dollars, the use of toll revenue to subsidize light rail projects, and another aspect of the project that called for tolls on the nearby I-205 bridge to supplement the project costs. Tolls on the I-205 bridge would have eliminated a toll-free alternative to the I-5.

Surveys by the bi-state Columbia River Project team showed that the public also soundly rejected the idea of tolls on the I-205 alternative.

Eight of nine roadway bridges over the Columbia River between Oregon and Washington have used tolls at one time or another as a partial funding mechanism, according to project officials.

In April 2013, then-Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood held a press conference with Washington state lawmakers to say it was now or never to build the bridge. He said the federal government was prepared to sink “millions of dollars into the project.”

Washington state was still working on funding for its share of project costs, while Oregon had approved the first $450 million to get the ball rolling.

As of Monday, March 10, it was not clear where Oregon’s seed money would end up or if it would go back to the state’s transportation fund.

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