The Columbia River Crossing took a major step forward Wednesday with the release of the project's final environmental impact statement.

The FEIS is required by the U.S. government to qualify for federal funding. The Federal Highway Administration and Federal Transit Administration will review the statement.

Project Director Nancy Boyd predicts the agencies will approve it in December, clearing the way for construction to begin in 2013.

The project is intended to reduce congestion and improve safety is a five-mile stretch of Interstate 5 that includes the bridge between Oregon and Washington. It calls for a replacement bridge with a new light-rail line. The project is estimated to cost between $3.1 billion and $3.5 billion.

Among other things, the FEIS predicts the project will:

• Reduce congestion on I-5 around the crossing by 60 percent.

• Shave 20 minutes off the peak period travel time from the Rose Quarter in Portland to 179th Street in Vancouver.

• Double the number of people who use transit to cross the Columbia River every day.

• Encourage significantly more pedestrian and bicycle crossings by improving access.

• Prevent more than 500 accidents a year.

• Reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the project area by more than 5 percent.

The financing plan calls for the project to be funded by a roughly equal mix of federal, state and toll funds. Boyd says that at the very least, the 2012 Oregon and Washington legislatures must approve a yet-to-be determined amount of money for property acquisitions.

The project is supported by business and labor groups that believe it will create jobs and improve the economy. It is opposed by environmental groups that argue it will encourage more driving and take money away from other needed transportation projects.

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