Read a Pacific Northwest, liberal perspective on world, national, and local politics. From majestic Redmond, Washington - the Northwest Progressive Institute Official Blog.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

State legislators agree on I-5 bridge costs

According to The Columbian, Oregon and Washington legislators intend to share costs of a new I-5 bridge.
Washington and Oregon will split the state-level expense of building a new bridge over the Columbia River, legislators from the two states said last week.

Senators from the Oregon and Washington transportation committees met in a joint session in Portland on Friday for a briefing on the proposed Columbia River Crossing project, which is devising a new Interstate 5 bridge.

The meeting was for information only. No firm price tag has been set, although the task force points to $6 billion as a rough estimate. No source of money has been identified, although federal, state and local sources will probably all be tapped to pay the bill.

But whatever the amount the state-level share will be, Oregon and Washington will split it 50-50, the legislators said while on a tour of the bridge in Vancouver following their briefing.
What's drawing a lot of attention right now is the $6 billion "guesstimate," which is awfully preliminary but a frightening figure nonetheless.

It's a little less frightening if one considers it would include transit and interchange costs, and that the hope appears to be that Congress will so love the ultimate plan that lots of federal money flow to the project, even though we keep hearing that federal money is tight. So what the "state-level costs" will be is unknown. The costs will certainly be hundreds of millions for each state, if not (yikes) over a billion each.

We also don't know what local taxes might be needed to say, operate transit systems.

The unknown cost is a huge potential factor in the court of public opinion. There seem to be very real reasons the way the process is working as it is, based on federal funding requirements and how projects progress from draft to final form.

While it's understandable that CRC project managers are careful not to create breakdowns of costs when they cannot be accurately calculated, it might be helpful to discuss previous interchange costs with reporters for purposes of illustration. It might not ease the pain of talking about $6 billion, but it could help the public understand that substantial portions of the cost would not be on the bridge itself.

There are almost certain to be arguments raised during the Feb. 27 task force vote about how to do something more cheaply. Given the enormity of the project, it's worth having that discussion one more time, even if it can be difficult to see how to get there.

This is what public process is all about. People will disagree on what to do, but in the end a decision must be made. In our view, the CRC has made a pretty decent effort at public outreach with public workshops, forums and televised task force meetings. Progressives may not agree with every aspect of the projct, but in a broad sense government can only offer the opportunity to participate, it can't force citizens to do so.

If you haven't had a chance, you can always check out the CRC web site and submit your thoughts on the project.

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