Before the Washington state Legislature adjourned late Sunday night, they passed a transportation budget. And tucked inside the $9.8 billion two-year budget was $35 million dedicated to renewed efforts to replace the Interstate 5 bridge.
The money will be used to open and operate an Interstate-5 bridge project office and help fund design work.
“It’s time to put our money where our mouth is and demonstrate how this process differs from past practices,” Washington state Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, said in a statement.
Gov. Kate Brown, who has been in talks with Washington Gov. Jay Inslee about reviving a plan to replace the aging bridge, said Oregon is ready to join their counterparts across the river.
“Replacing the Interstate Bridge is critical to the economies and communities of both Oregon and Washington,” Brown said in a statement.
Oregon’s Department of Transportation will have a staff member join the new office and work with Washington to start the process of reviewing what work might still be relevant from the defunct Columbia River Crossing project.
The money, however, is a pittance compared to the overall cost of planning and building a bridge.
Lawmakers in Oregon remain reluctant to engage with their Washington counterparts after Washington torpedoed the approximate $3 billion Columbia River Crossing project in 2013. An Oregon-only effort to replace the bridge connecting Portland to Vancouver fizzled a year later.
Since then, talk of replacing the 100-year-old bridge has been a divisive topic. It’s taken years for Washington lawmakers to prove to their Oregon counterparts they are committed to the effort.
And bridge fatigue remains strong.
Sen. Lee Beyer, D-Eugene, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, chuckled when he heard the $35 million figure.
“We’ll let them study it,” Beyer said of Washington lawmakers.
Later, he added, “If they want to talk, we’ll talk. But we won’t put the time and money into it. It’s their turn.”
The new effort could, however, stave off the federal government from recalling for a chunk of money they gave to the Columbia River Crossing. Both states must show the federal government they are making progress on the project or Oregon would owe about $93 million and Washington would owe $54 million.
Initially, it appeared as though Washington might pass a spending bill that included $450 million for the Interstate 5 Bridge project but the measure didn’t pass the Legislature.
One of the sticking points in the last project was over light rail. Members of the Southwest Washington community have been vocally opposed to light rail, while political leaders in both states have maintained it should be part of any new bridge.
Brown has called the current bridge over the Columbia River a “seismic risk, a freight bottleneck, a barrier to effective public transportation and a source of some of the worst gridlock in the nation.”