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Climate Emergency

Legislative Report - Week of 4/24

Interstate 5 (I-5) Bridge Project

By Arlene Sherrett

This week we learned more about the Interstate Bridge Replacement (IBR or the Project) Project’s status from Just Crossing Alliance (JCA), which published widely about their IBR’s plans objections. We spoke with Chris Smith, long-time observer of the Columbia River Crossing (CRC) plans, which failed to get us a bridge 10 years ago, and the current bridge rebuild, to Indi Namkoong from Verde, and to Brett Morgan from 1000 Friends of Oregon. They represent a local interest groups alliance which would like to see a S.A.F.E.R. bridge, in everyone’s best interests.

We asked about having a hard time getting solid Project information. It seemed like there was nothing out there to follow issues raised about design, price and mobility matters. Indi shared that the draft bill (HB 2098-2) and funding plan were only made public a few hours before the informational hearing, and that JCA is “eager to see the bill brought forward for a public hearing soon so a wider range of voices can join the conversation.” Chris also pointed out that the Joint Committee on Transportation (JCT) meeting the night before was a “carefully crafted "infomercial" for the bridge with invited panels only.”

Chris wrote legislative testimony opposing the -2 amendment and outlining JCA’s position. Getting the issues of bridge design and funding a broader public examination needs to be done. Anyone interested in how these issues will be resolved should read through this letter.

Indi spoke to me about the draft bill. The bottom line is, we need a bill committing to the bridge project and allocating funds before May 5, 2023, in order to be in line for substantial federal funding. That deadline is all that needs to be met right now. So there is an urgency but we do not need a bill that commits to General Obligation (GO) bonds for the funding this bill proposes. Washington State has pledged a billion dollars for this project but is allocating only $300M to begin with. Oregon legislators could follow the same “pledge and allocate” model and find the amount needed in highway tax revenues instead of the general fund, which is so stretched right now. That would be a win for everyone.

JCA believes the bill could be decoupled from any specific funding strategy and from the $6.3 billion spending cap. JCA suggests lowering that cap to $5 billion to force consideration of cheaper alternatives. 

JCA is not advocating for any one bridge plan but points us to the Alliance values. They want issues to be adequately aired before the legislature and the public. Their S.A.F.E.R. bridge platform emphasizes some issues that are not getting attention about the bridge, mobility for bikers, walkers and people in wheelchairs, for one, and points back to addressing funding issues so that State coffers for maintenance work that has been neglected in our neighborhoods would not be further drained.

The Project’s unwillingness to respond to mounting criticism not only from the JCA, but many others, is troubling. Criticism that the lack of an Investment Grade Analysis or any other essential oversight of the Project, may leave us in the same situation we were in with the CRC, ignoring the very concerns that caused the failure of the bridge plans at that time.

There is a lot to be considered here. It’s a huge project with a huge budget, and we should get it right this time.

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