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Fee defeat leaves Sellwood project in funding limbo

City waits as county tries to find money for bridge replacement
by: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT The future of the Sellwood Bridge replacement project is up for discussion again.

The future of the $290 million Sellwood Bridge replacement project is squarely in the hands of the Multnomah County board of commissioners.

Clackamas County voters rejected a plan Tuesday to pay $22 million toward the project in higher motor vehicle registration fees. The measure to establish a $5 a year motor vehicle registration fee dedicated to the project was defeated by a margin of 63 percent to 37 percent.

Although Portland is still a funding partner, an intergovernmental agreement between the city and the county makes it clear that the county must come up with a way to fund any deficit in the project. With Tuesday's vote, the project faces a $42 million shortfall - the $22 million Clackamas County will not contribute and an additional $20 million in federal funds that have yet to be secured.

'We understand that is our obligation and that is what we intend to do,' says Multnomah County Commissioner Deborah Kafoury, whose district includes the bridge.

Although the county owns the bridge, the city has agreed to pay a maximum of $100 million toward the project. That figure is included in the intergovernmental agreement, which also says the city will not put any of the money in escrow until the county shows how all of the project will be funded. The county has until the end of 2012 to show the city the final funding plan.

Other funds that have been secured include $127 million from Multnomah County, $30 million from the state and $11 million carried forward from an earlier environmental impact statement phase. Options facing the county include reducing the cost of the project, finding additional non-Portland funds or some combination of the two.

After the vote, Clackamas County officials made it clear they would not contribute any other funds to the project. Commissioner Jim Bernard and Clackamas Chairwoman Charlotte Lehan said that their board had promised Multnomah County to pass the fee ordinance, not provide the $22 million contribution.

Kafoury says county engineers would start talking this week about potential budget cuts. Project costs have already been reduced by $40 million. Kafoury said additional savings might be found by altering the Highway 43 (Macadam Avenue) interchange at the west end of the bridge or phasing in parts of the project.

'At the very least, the project will look different than it does now,' Kafoury says.