Oregon lawmakers release proposal to borrow $1 billion for I-5 bridge

By Troy Brynelson (OPB)
March 24, 2023 4:46 p.m.

Oregon legislators are considering issuing bonds backed by the state’s general fund and the highway user taxes. They’re also considering capping the total cost of the bridge, the draft shows.

The Interstate 5 Bridge is pictured Friday, Nov. 1, 2019, in Vancouver, Wash.

FILE - The Interstate 5 Bridge is pictured Friday, Nov. 1, 2019, in Vancouver, Wash.

Bradley W. Parks / OPB

Lawmakers in Oregon are looking to borrow $1 billion to replace the Interstate 5 bridge, a move that would match Washington’s pledge last year.


State legislators propose issuing bonds backed against Oregon’s general fund and the highway user tax program used by the Oregon Department of Transportation.

The details came in a policy draft sent out Wednesday to members of the state’s Joint Transportation Committee. Some aspects of the document are still not final, according to lawmakers.

Rep. Susan McLain, D-Hillsboro, said the borrowing plan is a “very simple package.” The general fund bond would amount to about $300 million, and the ODOT dollars would amount to $700 million.

Representative Susan McLain on inauguration day at the Capitol in Salem, Ore., Jan. 9, 2023.

Representative Susan McLain on inauguration day at the Capitol in Salem, Ore., Jan. 9, 2023.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

The proposal comes as the bridge replacement project approaches important mileposts. Planners overseeing the project have said they need both states to put money on the table in order to compete for high-dollar federal grants.


“We’re making sure the federal government knows the state of Washington and the state of Oregon are working diligently to replace a very important West Coast bridge,” McLain said Thursday.

An official funding proposal has not yet been forward by Oregon’s transportation committee. According to McLain, they don’t expect to release an official plan until April. It would then head to the Senate and House floors before it could land on the state’s biennial budget.

The draft also states the project “may not exceed $6.3 billion” in cost. The project’s price has risen recently, which planners attribute to inflation, supply chain problems and shortages in the workforce.

Greg Johnson, who is leading the team overseeing the bridge replacement, estimated in December that the project would cost between $5 billion and $7.5 billion. He said through a spokesperson Thursday that his team is aware Oregon has mentioned a spending limit.

When asked about a possible spending cap, McLain said only that it was “a conversation that is on the table.”

That the proposal would pump $700 million from a well of funding normally used by ODOT gave Oregon Transportation Commissioner Lee Beyer some concern. He said the agency will be facing cashflow problems in the future as more and more electric vehicles cut down revenue from the state’s gas tax.

But he called the bridge an important project that needs to get built. He pointed to the swell of federal dollars for bridge projects after the passage last year of the $1.2 trillion Inflation Reduction Act.

“I’m concerned, but I’m not unhappy with them making this statement, or we’ll miss the old phrase ‘the opportunity window,’” Beyer said. “The feds are in a position to make a commitment. We have to do it.”

McLain noted that Oregon legislators are looking at other ways to refill money for transportation projects. She floated the prospects of fees from electric vehicles or a so-called “vehicle miles traveled” approach that charges vehicles based on miles driven on public roads.

McLain added that, under their proposal, bonds won’t be issued until 2025.