Billion $$ battle over dueling I-5 bridge ideas

By Taxpayers Association of Oregon

Oregon lawmakers are listening to public testimony on two proposals for constructing and paying for a new Interstate 5 bridge across the Columbia River, between Portland, Ore., and Vancouver, Wash., according to the Portland Tribune.

The proposals would replace the northbound span, erected in 1917, and the southbound built in 1958, neither of which could withstand a severe earthquake.

Debate has centered on whether the new bridge should be erected to handle more traffic, but all sides agree it must carry buses and light rail across the river and provide walkways and bicycle paths.

Although Oregon lawmakers approved funding for its share of a new $3.5 billion bridge in 2013, the Republican-controlled Washington State Senate refused to pay that state’s share of the proposed Columbia River Crossing. Federal funding at that time required expansion of Portland’s light rail, which Clark County officials opposed.

Since then, the cost of the bridge has jumped to an estimated $5 billion to $7.5 billion. Both Oregon and Washington resumed discussion of the project in 2017, and the Washington Legislature has approved $1 billion for its share of the bridge.

Officials in both states hope the new I-5 Columbia River Bridge receives federal funding through President Joe Biden’s $1.2 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

Oregon lawmakers are debating two plans to pay the state’s $1 billion share. Both proposals cap the cost of the project at $6.3 billion.

One plan calls for issuing $1 billion in general obligation bonds to be repaid from the general fund over eight years. That proposal also calls for widening and realigning the I-5 and I-84 Rose Quarter interchange, which could cost as much as$1.5 billion.

An alternative from Southeast Portland’s Rep. Khanh Pham, a Democrat, would use only $250 million in general obligation bonds and $750 million from bonds repaid from fuel taxes, licensing and registration fees, and other user fees. Her proposal requires $1.5 billion from the Federal Highway Administration and at least $1 billion from the Federal Transit Administration before state funding is released but offers no improvements in the Rose Quarter.

Tolls also would be levied to help pay for the bridge.

Almost 60 people spoke about House Bill 2098 during a Joint Committee on Transportation hearing April 27. Another is scheduled for May 4.

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