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Wheeler says CRC needed, but financing still uncertain

Oregon State Treasurer Ted Wheeler says the Columbia River Crossing is a badly needed project but must make financial sense before he will issue the bonds to help finance it.

Wheeler made his comments in response to the release of an analysis that said bridge tolls could raise enough money to pay for bonds if the Oregon Department of Transportation can figure out how to collect them.

“If the assumptions underlying the projections made by the project consultants are valid, the tolls will be sufficient to service the project bonds. That said, we need to be sure Oregon can collect them,” Wheeler said.

According to the Treasurer's Office, a key concern is ensuring a legally enforceable way to ensure tolls are collected from drivers registered in Washington State, who will make up an estimated two-thirds of the bridge users.

The investment grade analysis was commissioned by ODOT after Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber directed the agency to determine if the state can lead the construction of the replacement I-5 bridge and freeway improvement project between Portland and Vancouver.

“While the project is badly needed — it must also make sense from a financial perspective. It is Treasury’s job to ensure that if the State decides to move forward with any plan, Oregon’s financial interests remain protected,” Wheeler said.

Although the 2013 Oregon Legislature approved $450 million as the state's share of the project, the Washington Legislature failed to follow through with its commitment. The 2014 Oregon Legislature is expected to take the issue up when it convenes in February. A joint legislative committee will hold a hearing on it on Jan. 14 in Salem.

In a Jan. 9 letter to Senate President peter Courtney and House Speaker Tina Kotek, Wheeler said he will not be able to attend the meeting because of a prior commitment.

Wheeler's letter can be found at www.oregon.gov/treasury/AboutTreasury/Documents/Jan%209%2c%202014%20CRC%20Letter%20to%20Legislative%20Leaders.pdf