PORTLAND, Ore. — The transportation budget recently passed by Washington state lawmakers includes $35 million for renewed efforts to replace the Interstate 5 bridge connecting Washington and Oregon, and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said she is ready to work with Washington to replace the aging span.
Lawmakers in Oregon, however, remain wary of engaging with their Washington counterparts because of mistrust that built up when Washington killed a $3 billion bridge project in 2013 that had secured federal funding.
Another plan spearheaded by Oregon alone fizzled in 2014.
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,” he told Oregon Public Broadcasting, according to a story published Tuesday.
“If they want to talk, we’ll talk. But we won’t put the time and money into it. It’s their turn.”
The money will be used to open and operate an Interstate 5 bridge project office and help fund design work.
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 fraction of what it would to plan and build a bridge.
The 100-year-old span needs seismic upgrades and isn’t made for current traffic demands, leading to horrible traffic jams for interstate commuters who work in Portland and live in southwest Washington’s bedroom communities.
The too-small span also crimps freight commerce between the two states, Brown said.
She has called the bridge a “seismic risk, a freight bottleneck, a barrier to effective public transportation and a source of some of the worst gridlock in the nation,” OPB reported.
The new effort could, however, stave off the federal government from recalling for a chunk of money they gave to the Columbia River Crossing project six years ago. 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.