Columbia River Crossing gets critical OK from federal transportation to proceed
Published: Wednesday, December 07, 2011, 5:32 PM Updated: Wednesday, December 07, 2011, 7:54 PM
Jeff Manning, The Oregonian
The Columbia River Crossing took a crucial step forward Wednesday when two federal agencies granted the controversial bridge-freeway project a federal "record of decision."
The "ROD," as it's known in the parlance of transportation bureaucrats, allows the $3 billion-plus CRC to tap into the federal piggy bank. The 5-mile-long bridge and freeway expansion, which will run from North Portland to northern Vancouver, is reliant on federal coffers for about half of the construction cost.
The Federal Highway Administration and Federal Transit Administration signed the ROD, which finalizes the environmental review process and formally recognizes the project's preferred alternative – a replacement Interstate 5 bridge with light rail.
Project Director Nancy Boyd said getting the ROD is a "major milestone." It is a validation, she said, of the project's massive effort to comply with federal environmental rules. The CRC's planning and preliminary engineering has cost more than $130 million to date.
Oregon and Washington officials have argued for years that the existing Interstate-5 crossing from Portland to Vancouver is out of date, too small and dangerous. The relatively low bridges back up marine cargo traffic and periodic bridge lifts turn the area's already chronic congestion into monumental traffic jams.
Critics say the project is too expensive and won't significantly improve traffic flows along Interstate 5.
While the debate rages, CRC officials were counting on getting the ROD by the end of 2011, which is crucial if the project is to reach its goal of breaking ground by late 2013.
Funding for the project remains uncertain due to financial constraints at both the state and federal level. The project is also still scrambling to find replacement revenue after outside consultants determined that the CRC's tolling plan was badly flawed. Among other things, the CRC's initial projections that tolling could raise more than $1 billion were based on inaccurate, inflated traffic projections.
State leaders cheered the new development. "The record of decision is the final step in a planning process that extends back to my first term as governor," said Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber. "It's time to move forward for the region and our state and on to what's needed to deliver a project we know will have far-reaching benefits."
"This decision moves us closer to fixing a significant economic bottleneck and getting people back to work," said Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire.
-- Jeff Manning
Related topics: columbia river crossing, crc money, john kitzhaber