Two Major Announcements for Washington-Oregon I-5 Bridge Megaproject

The two I-5 Columbia River Bridges were built in 1917 and 1958. Image WSDOT Flickr.

Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber and Washington Senator Patty Murray made significant announcements about the bi-state I-5 Columbia River Crossing project. The statements occurred during a meeting of the Oregon Business Council.

Kitzhaber announced an agreement with legislative leaders of both parties to resolve outstanding issues and fulfill Oregon’s funding commitment to build the I-5 Columbia River Crossing project. He said after a decade of planning and a year of legislative review, it’s time to build a bridge. Kitzhaber called on the legislature to work with him and finalize a funding source by March 1. That would give time for the Washington State Governor and Legislature to act. Both states need to formalize their funding commitment this year in order for federal funding to proceed as planned.

Kitzhaber did say he did not think Oregon Lottery funds were appropriate, according to the Portland Tribune.  Also expressing support for finalized a funding bill at the Business Council meeting was a panel of legislative leaders from both parties (Kitzhaber: PERS reforms, education funding difficult but can be done).

A week ago the Oregon Business Council included the project in its 2013 Legislative agenda and “implored senators and representatives with three simple words: Build the bridge,” according to the Portland Business Journal (Columbia bridge hits Oregon Summit docket amid biz questions). The Portland Business Alliance also supports the project. A February 2011 Alliance survey found that 67% of its members strongly or somewhat back the project, compared to 25 percent that oppose it.

Senator Murray announced she wants light rail included in the project. That’s not a new position, but it is significant in light of the call from Washington Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler for the project to look at another form of transit. Learn more about that from our story, Election Results May Lead to Major Recalibration of Washington-Oregon I-5 Bridge Megaproject

ton Gov.-elect Jay Inslee, who during his campaign…emphasized that the reality was that the project would not be built without light rail,” (At Oregon Leadership Summit, Sen. Murray promotes I-5 bridge project — with light rail).

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.

Gaining approval for the funding package in each state legislature will be difficult. There are plenty of opponents, Democratic and Republican, to the project as currently planned.  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 to proceed.

Learn more from our past stories about the I-5 Columbia River Crossing Project.

Learn more about the project from the project sponsor’s official website, or from leading opponents of the project, SmarterBridge.org.