Effort to replace Interstate 5 Bridge gets $600 million from feds

By Troy Brynelson (OPB)
Dec. 15, 2023 10:29 p.m. Updated: Dec. 16, 2023 12:40 a.m.

Replacing the century-old bridge is expected to cost around $6 billion. Planners overseeing the project have banked on $2.5 billion of that to come from federal grants.

The Interstate 5 bridge connecting Washington and Oregon across the Columbia River as seen from Vancouver, Washington, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018.

FILE: The Interstate 5 bridge connecting Washington and Oregon across the Columbia River as seen from Vancouver, Wash., on Dec. 15, 2018.

Bradley W. Parks / OPB

The federal government is preparing to give a massive amount of money to replace the Interstate 5 Bridge between Washington and Oregon.

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On Friday, delegates from Washington state announced that the yearslong effort to replace the bridge spanning the Columbia River will get $600 million from a U.S. Department of Transportation grant.

It’s the first check the federal government has written for the project, but likely isn’t the last. To date, the only public cash has come from the states of Oregon and Washington, which have notably pledged $1 billion each.

“Today marks a mega win for the State of Washington,” U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, said in a written statement.

Cantwell, who chairs the senate Commerce, Science & Transportation committee, helped draft the grant program. In recent trips to the bridge, she has mentioned to reporters that the program was practically tailored to fit the bridge itself, which is more than a century old.

“Older bridges were never designed to carry this volume of people and freight, and the consequence is that they become a pinch point for the economy and a headache for daily commuters, stymying economic growth,” Cantwell added.

Replacing the bridge is estimated to cost around $6 billion total. Beyond state funding and money that drivers will pay in tolls, planners hope to get $2.5 billion in federal dollars.

Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden said in a statement Friday that he wanted to see more federal dollars for the project to avoid tolling, calling the $600 million grant a “down payment.”

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“I’m all with seeing this vital project through to completion with the ongoing help of federal tax dollars and without any new tolling costs landing on Oregon motorists, many of whom are already battling to make ends meet,” Wyden wrote.

The announcement Friday had several officials from both Washingtons celebrating. Earlier in the week, several sources around the project worried the funding would come in significantly less — perhaps closer to $300 million.

Sources close to the project said the anticipated shortfall led planners to try to make up the losses elsewhere. In November, after meetings with legislators and the U.S. Department of Transportation, planners revised a $1.2 billion grant application to the Federal Highway Administration, and instead asked for $1.5 billion.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle both told OPB on Friday morning that they would simply be happy to get any federal funding.

“I’ll be appreciative of any federal funds that come through. We do understand, you know, $600 million is a big request,” Inslee said. “So we shot high. We can go back in future years. I’ll be happy with any announcement to get federal assistance because we’ve got to get this job done.”

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray and U.S. Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, both Washington state Democrats, said landing the commitment pushes the project closer to breaking ground, which is expected in 2025.

Murray noted that she first started discussing the need to replace the bridge back in 1992 alongside Oregon’s then-U.S. Sen. Mark Hatfield. She noted that she helped fund the grant program by negotiating Congress’s massive infrastructure package that was signed into law in 2021.

“For decades, I have made clear to the people of Southwest Washington that I will stick by their side and fight for a new I-5 Bridge crossing,” Murray said. “Today, I am proud to have delivered this funding.”

Freshman congresswoman Gluesenkamp Perez said she “pushed” transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg in recent weeks to ensure the project received the money.

“I’m excited these efforts have paid off,” Gluesenkamp Perez said. “From day one, it’s been my mission to bring our federal tax dollars back to Southwest Washington to replace the deteriorating, functionally obsolete I-5 bridge.”

More federal funding could be on the horizon. The outcome of the project’s $1.5 billion grant application could be announced in the spring.

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