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New Columbia bridge plan: Similar, riskier

Aug 15, 2013


By The Associated Press

PORTLAND — An Oregon-only plan to replace the Interstate 5 bridge over the Columbia River would resemble the two-state project that appeared dead a few weeks ago, and it would carry greater risks for Oregon's taxpayers.

The $3.4 billion bridge project began to close down after years of work and millions spent when the Washington Legislature wouldn't put up its $450 million share. But the planners are attempting to salvage a $2.75 billion project, the Oregonian reported.

Officials say it can go forward only if forthcoming financial projections convince Gov. John Kitzhaber and legislative leaders that the increased risks are reasonable.

Under the original Columbia River Crossing plan, Washington and Oregon would have split costs and liabilities. Under the new proposal, Oregon would be on the hook for any cost overruns and funding shortfalls.

A special session of the Legislature would be necessary to secure financing before Sept. 30. That's when Oregon's $450 million commitment is set to expire in the absence of matching money from Washington state.

The planning is for a project not much changed, except for dropping interchange improvements on the Washington side.

Light-rail mass transit, which has attracted federal money for the project, would be included.

“A bridge without the light rail element is not part of this project,” said Kris Strickler, de facto director of the project since the departure of his Washington counterpart.

Opposition to light rail was key in the debate in Washington, and a question in Oregon is who would cover a projected $2 million to $3 million annual operating loss.

The project planners said projections still call for toll revenues of more than $1 billion, all of which would now go to Oregon.

State Treasurer Ted Wheeler is also expected to vet a preliminary investment-grade analysis of the project's finances. That's expected later this month, several weeks late.

“The Oregon-only proposal raises some new and complex questions that would need to be carefully considered because it implies that there will be a higher level of financial risk for Oregon taxpayers,” said a statement from Wheeler's office. It said he would “take as long as it takes to have confidence that this proposal will not expose Oregonians to undue risks.”

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Information from: The Oregonian, http://www.oregonlive.com

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