Buried in an Oregon Department of Transportation presentation earlier this month is an acknowledgement that the I-5 bridge replacement “contribution” from Oregon will be as much as $1 billion—up from a maximum of $850 million just two months earlier.
The I-5 bridge replacement project (formerly known as the Columbia River Crossing) is a proposal for a multi-billion dollar freeway widening and bridge-expansion program between Portland and Vancouver. The original CRC project died after costing nearly $200 million for staff and consultants in 2014, but has been revived in the past year.
Late last year, we took a close look at the project’s initial financial plans, which show the project could cost as much as $4.8 billion (and considerably more if more realistic inflation estimates are used). We also identified a fundamental math error in the estimation of the project’s financial gap, i.e. the difference between expected costs and potential revenues. The Oregon and Washington transportation departments—ODOT and WSDOT—understated the maximum size of the funding gap (i.e. what happens in the two state’s realize the low end of expected revenues and incur the high end of expected costs), by more than $1 billion; the total gap the two state’s face is $3.4 billion. That hole will have to be filled for the project to move forward. While both states have indicated an interest in reviving the project, neither has committed funds, so a big question now is, how much will they have to contribute. The Oregon Department of Transportation was telling legislators one thing a couple of months ago, and something a good deal more expensive now.
December 2020: Oregon contribution $650 to $850 million
ODOT has been including its estimates of Oregon’s share of these costs in its presentations to state legislators. On December 10, 2021, ODOT testified to the Legislature that Oregon’s contribution to the I-5 bridge project would be $650 million to $850 million. (The second colored bar on this chart is identified as “Interstate Bridge Replacement Contribution”