Oregon and Washington, Disconnected

Last week Oregon was cut off from Washington, due to flooding that closed I-5 from Chehalis to Olympia the evening of January 7. The loss of commerce for each day the highway would remain closed was estimated to be in excess of $4 million. The Washington Department of Transportation reopened I-5 on Friday. In the December 2007 flood, property damage alone in that area exceeded $1 billion.

Flooding along the I-5 corridor has occurred seven times since 1971, three times in the past four years. In 2003, Washington State received $30 million from the Nickel Funding Package (five cents added to the gas tax to fund road projects) to help fix this problem.

After a 22-million-dollar study, the Washington State Department of Transportation determined that it would cost $100 million to prevent flooding by building an elaborate levee system along the Chehalis River. The state sought the additional $70 million from both federal and local sources. The additional funds were never granted, so the original $30 million was used for other projects, leaving residents and business owners in Centralia to face the next big storm without a levee.

That storm hit on January 7, 2009, and now the community is faced with millions in new damages. To make matters even worse, flooding in other parts of the state closed the other two highways linking Oregon and Washington, cutting off all ground transportation.

The bottom line: Over a billion dollars in taxpayer (FEMA) money has been spent to clean up a problem that $100 million in highway funds would have solved. Working together, state and federal agencies CAN find the funding to get the Chehalis River Basin Flood Reduction Project done before taxpayers shell out ten times the project cost in damages “again.”

Jeff Alan is Chief Investigator at Cascade Policy Institute, a non-partisan free market research center based in Portland, Oregon.