Rick Bunnan / firstname.lastname@example.org
A project to replace the aging Interstate 5 bridge over the Columbia River is in the environmental study stage, and an updated cost estimate for the project is expected by the end of the year.
At its Oct. 31 meeting, the Oregon-Washington Joint Legislative Action Committee heard from staff of the Interstate Bridge Replacement Project. Earlier this year, the project’s eight partner institutions endorsed a milestone in the development of the program: Locally Recommended Alternatives.
The program is currently focused on developing a supplemental environmental review completed by policy in the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970. A supplementary review examines the impacts and benefits of the project and specific mitigations for unavoidable adverse impacts, the IBRP. Environmental Manager Chris Regan said:
The review focuses on over 20 focus areas, including environmental impacts on air quality, archaeology, energy, toxics, aesthetics, climate and more.
A previous bridge replacement project had already undergone an environmental review that was conducted during the failure of the Columbia River Crossing (CRC) ten years ago. IBRP Assistant Program Manager Frank Green said the current work is “in the middle” of the environmental review and either scraps everything or moves forward with no new work.
“We didn’t think we could stay where we were,” added Regan.
The review will be published and communicated in advance of the public comment period in Summer 2023. Regan said the program’s goal is to produce a federal record of final reviews and decisions by the summer of 2024.
Regan cites a number of other regulatory milestones starting in 2024. Those include from late 2025 until he gets the necessary permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Coast Guard by early 2026.
Construction was tentatively scheduled to begin by 2026, but Reagan explained why those permits weren’t obtained immediately. He said the program “is not going to wait until the last minute to apply,” and has already held dialogue with both the Marine Corps and the Coast Guard.
R-Vancouver Sen. Lynda Wilson touched on the discrepancy between the program’s currently identified bridge height and what the Coast Guard has indicated it wants. IBRP now follows the 116-foot river clearance previously permitted by the CRC. But earlier this year, the Coast Guard told the program it needed to go higher, up to the current span’s maximum clearance of 178 feet.
“I can’t imagine what would happen if they walked in and said, ‘I’m sorry, I said you need 178 feet,'” Wilson said.
Fellow assistant program administrator Ray Mabey emphasized that the Coast Guard had previously authorized the replacement of the 116-foot bridge, indicating that the previous work had not significantly changed water traffic compared to the CRC. added.
Fundraising was also addressed at the conference. A major update on project costs is expected at the Committee’s next meeting on December 12th.
That estimate is currently under development and is based on locally preferred alternatives and current economic factors, Green said. In 2020, the cost of the project was estimated at $3.2 billion to $4.8 billion, based on information from the CRC.
Green said the program will go through a quote validation process. That process included a recent workshop inviting subject matter experts to identify risks or opportunities, he said.
“Having actually seen the full list of identified risks, we have a better understanding of some of the areas where the program needs to focus its design efforts,” said Green.
The new estimates form the basis for a full financial plan update, expected in early 2023, Green said.
As for how to fund it, the program has identified opportunities for federal grants alongside state pledges. IBRP has already received his $1 million planning grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bridge Investment Program, and both WSDOT and ODOT have him submitting $750 million joint construction grant applications. increase.
The program has also submitted a letter of interest to USDOT’s Mega Projects program and is seeking funding through the Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment Grant Program, Mabey added. Of all the grants, Green said he could see a net profit of $2.5 billion from the project. The way the subsidy was designed seemed well suited for bridge replacement.
“They seem like a good fit for our program of size and character,” said Mabey.
He said these opportunities are competitive and the time to apply is limited.
The program is also seeking $1 billion each from the Washington and Oregon governments. Earlier this year, the Washington State Legislature pledged that funding. The program hopes to receive similar commitments from Oregon legislators during the 2023 session. Mabey said these state funds are necessary to match federal subsidies.
The third element is ‘variable toll collection’, which is included in the locally preferred alternatives. Oregon was selected as the toll collection manager based on its uniform operations in the project area.
Mabey said that doesn’t mean that only Oregon will decide policy, it will be decided by both states.
Tolling infrastructure is likely not temporary, but the question remains whether tolling will provide more funding than initial construction.
“Usually when you charge for a facility, you want the facility to be able to charge for the long term,” says Green.
He said there would need to be an agreement between states on what would be operated and maintained.
State Legislature Adopts Resolution Opposing Tolls on I-5 and I-205 Corridors
Clark County Legislature approves tolling as part of bridge replacement, but unanimously votes against tolling larger corridors on Interstate 5 and Interstate 205 approved by
Oregon is developing toll booths on a portion of the interstate highway that runs through the Portland metropolitan area. The Council has spent the past few weeks drafting resolutions to indicate its opposition to the proposal. They approved the final version of the resolution at their November 1st meeting.
“The proposed toll would have a negative impact on those who cannot change their working hours and those who are wage earners and unable to pay tolls for roads on which taxes have already been paid,” it said. Congressman Gary Medvisie said in the news. release.
The resolution notes that the current high-level plan for bridge replacement includes a variable rate toll. It states that these tolls should only be considered for the construction of the exchange and should be “sunset” at some point.
“Clark County residents who cross the bridge for work pay taxes to Oregon,” City Council Speaker Karen Bowerman said in a release. “Given the additional funding from tolls collected at multiple locations to accommodate their commute, there is good reason for this council to take a negative stance on that toll.”
Local governments, including the City of Vancouver, are included in the program’s eight regional partners, but Clark County Council is not. Medvigy acknowledged this at an earlier meeting.
“We don’t make laws. We don’t even have seats on this issue,” he said.