Wash. Planners Looking to Cut Columbia River Project

Mon June 15, 2009 - West Edition
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VANCOUVER, Wash. (AP) The Washington State Department of Transportation’s regional administrator said there may not be enough money to build a bridge, freeway and transit project in southwest Washington costing $4 billion or more.

Don Wagner told The Columbian that planners and engineers are looking to cut costs on the multibillion-dollar Columbia River Crossing project.

He said the possible cuts include delaying one or more of the interchange projects and slicing off a bridge lane in each direction.

Wagner doesn’t believe it’s politically possible to replace the Interstate 5 Bridge without extending light rail into Vancouver, Wash. He predicted the crossing project would be on “life support” if voters shoot down a light-rail measure.

Wagner said despite the obstacles, there are benefits to replacing the I-5 Bridge, namely a 70 percent to 90 percent easing of congestion at one of the region’s most notorious bottlenecks.

He said removing a bridge lane would save about $150 million.

Between $200 million to $300 million could be trimmed from the budget if overhauling the state Highway 500 interchange was delayed, and another $400 million to $500 million could be saved if the Marine Drive interchange in Oregon wasn’t rebuilt, he said.

But Wagner said saving another $750 million by killing light rail isn’t going to happen.

Although there is no requirement for a public vote on Washington state or Oregon building a replacement bridge or imposing tolls that could cost commuters more than $1,000 a year, a vote will be needed on one or more aspects of light rail.

The federal government is expected to cover all construction costs, but C-Tran will need a sales tax increase or some other revenue boost to subsidize light-rail operations and maintenance. Fares alone won’t cover those costs.

State law requires voter approval of a high-capacity transit system and financing plan, a requirement that must be met regardless of how construction and operating costs are paid.

Wagner said the existing I-5 spans, opened in 1917 and 1958, are structurally solid.

But a major earthquake could be disastrous because the bridge is built on 60-ft. wood piles driven into the bed of the Columbia River, Wagner said.

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