Officials shave $100 million from I-5 bridge project budget


Despite ongoing controversy about the scope and cost of the Columbia River Crossing, project managers insist it is still on schedule and have even reduced its estimated cost by $100 million.

'The direction last spring from Gov. Gregoire and Gov. Kitzhaber on bridge type allowed us to move forward on a solid path to meet the current schedule,' said Oregon Transportation Director Matt Garrett on Friday. 'We were also able to realize cost savings from increased certainty on our construction approach and design details as we learned more about soil structure in the corridor.'

The new estimate is part of an annual process that helps the project manage risks and reduce cost overruns. The previous cost range from May 2010 was $3.2 billion to $3.6 billion. The updated cost range is now $3.1 billion to $3.5 billion. It is determined through a risk-based analysis conducted by project staff that includes many variables, such as inflation, demand for materials or labor and the availability of funding.

'Our team has worked hard to refine the cost for this project that is a vital transportation link on the West Coast,' said Washington Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond.

According to a statement released Friday, the lower cost estimates resulted from:

• Selection of a deck truss bridge type.

• Increased knowledge of soil conditions from geotechnical borings.

• Receipt of the biological opinion from the National Marine Fisheries Service.

• Refinement of interchange designs.

• Planned use of design-build construction contracts for the replacement to the Interstate Bridge, and Marine Drive, Hayden Island and State Route 14 interchanges, as well as park-and-ride structures.

Environmental opposition

The project is intended to reduce congestion and improve safety in a five-mile stretch of Interstate 5 that includes the twin drawbridges between Oregon and Washington. The cost estimate, presented in year-of-expenditure dollars, includes construction of a replacement bridge over the Columbia River, extension of light rail to Vancouver, improvements to the highway and five interchanges, and enhancements to bicycle and pedestrian facilities.

Construction is scheduled to begin in 2013.

Plans call for the project to be funded from a variety of sources, including federal highway and transit funds, state highway funds, and tolls on the new bridge. Critics charge the revenue estimates are unrealistic, arguing that Congress has not yet renewed approved the final version of the project the Highway Trust Fund that would help finance it. They also argue the toll estimates are too high, saying that traffic counts have fallen in recent years and will continue to decline even if the economy recovers because people are permanently changing their driving habits.

Environmentalists also oppose the project saying it will encourage more driving, increasing greenhouse gas emissions despite policies in both states to reduce them.

The project is supported by a coalition of business and labor groups who argue it will create jobs and benefit the economy.