Major Step Forward for Washington-Oregon Bridge Megaproject?

The current southbound I-5 bridge connecting Oregon & Washington was built in 1917.

A Washington-Oregon bridge megaproject got a huge boost when Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber included project funding in his 2013 budget proposal. Kitzhaber recommends fulfilling Oregon’s $450 million commitment for the I-5 Columbia River Crossing Bridge project using bonds.

Kitzhaber’s announcement is a huge boost for the project, which suffered some setbacks in the November election. Learn more about that from our story, Election Results May Lead to Major Recalibration of Washington-Oregon I-5 Bridge Megaproject.

The Oregon legislature will need to approve the funding, along with a source to pay off the bonds. The Governor is expected to announce on Monday, December 3, that he has an agreement in principle with legislative leaders to pursue the proposal and get it passed. If so, the pressure on Washington State’s new Governor and Legislature to do the same will intensify.

Outgoing Washington Governor Chris Gregoire will release her proposed budget by December 20. Ultimately, however, that budget is likely to be rewritten significantly by incoming Governor Jay Inslee because, well, in part that’s what new Governors do. So it will probably be January before we learn what Governor Inslee will propose. On the campaign trail, Inslee was a strong supporter of the project and its light rail component.

2013 is critical year for the project. Washington and Oregon each must approve their share of the project’s funding in order to keep federal funds flowing, and to keep the project moving forward.  If one or both states don’t take that step, the project easily could come to a halt. That’s what some project critics want, and gaining approval for the funding package in each state will be difficult. The funding can be allocated over a number of years, but the commitment and funding mechanism must be enacted in order to convince federal officials.

Despite the Oregon Senate and House being controlled by Kitzhaber’s fellow Democrats his budget will still face challenges:

“He’s shown us his plan to pay for it. He’s been honest about the tough votes,” said Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, who got an advance look Thursday. “Everyone who has been involved in this process knows this won’t be the final budget, but he’s shown us his road map.”Kitzhaber’s budget includes more spending for education and public works, Statesman-Journal.

“To achieve the goals in his 2013-15 budget, the governor is asking lawmakers — and the legions of lobbyists, advocates and interest groups who influence them — to make controversial changes to public pensions and prison sentences. The two-year budget also depends on the Legislature extending a tax on hospitals. “That requires some pretty tough votes,” Kitzhaber acknowledged (Gov. John Kitzhaber’s budget offers 500 more teachers, cap on PERS increases, The Oregonian.