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I-5 Columbia River bridge plan not dead yet

The project's Vancouver planning and design headquarters is preparing to close up shop as planners seek a permit from the Coast Guard and imagine a bridge that doesn't require money from Washington state and can win approval by the Oregon Legislature.

The Associated Press

8/7/2013

PORTLAND, Ore. — A $3.4 billion proposal to replace the Interstate 5 bridge between Portland and Vancouver isn't dead yet, even though the Washington Legislature won't put up its proposed $450 million share.

"The need didn't go away," bridge official Patricia McCaig told The Oregonian (http://bit.ly/1932UIj ) in a story Tuesday.

The project's Vancouver planning and design headquarters is preparing to close up shop as planners seek a permit from the Coast Guard and imagine a bridge that doesn't require money from Washington state and can win approval by the Oregon Legislature.

Oregon lawmakers have voted to put up $450 million. Washington lawmakers — many opposed to including a light-rail in the project — wouldn't do likewise. Federal grants and toll revenue would have made up the rest of the $3.4 billion cost.

Oregon's financial commitment expires on Sept. 30, and there's a possibility that lawmakers in that state will have a special session to deal with public pensions and taxes. Conceivably, it could be held in time for legislators to amend Oregon's funding so the project could survive without a match by Washington.

The Coast Guard would have to issue a bridge permit by mid-October to clear the way for an application for federal funds.

McCaig said a narrowly revised project could still qualify for federal funds, notably $850 million for light rail. Radically different proposals, such as a tunnel or an additional bridge, have been taken off the table.

McCaig said no specific plan has emerged, but one approach involves Oregon highway improvements and a bridge connected to Highway 14 in Washington by an upgraded interchange. Oregon could issue $1.3 billion in bonds, with no contribution from Washington, and receive all income from bridge tolls.

Joe Cortright, a Portland economist who opposes the bridge proposal, said a truncated project financed by Oregon and the U.S. government would differ so much from the original proposal that it probably wouldn't qualify for federal funds.

"You can't do an environmental impact statement for one project and then build something that's so tremendously different," he said.

Managers say that if the bridge doesn't get federal money now, it will slip behind other states in a long queue and eliminate chances of light-rail construction for at least a decade.

McCaig said officials look at any possibilities to take advantage of the $170 million spent on the project over the past decade on technical work, permitting and the environmental process.

Information from: The Oregonian, http://www.oregonlive.com

The Trucker staff can be reached to comment on this article at editor@thetrucker.com.

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