While excited government and transportation officials from Washington and Oregon wait to figure out exactly what it all means, they still have reason to get excited that the slogging Columbia River Crossing project has made President Barack Obama’s list of four nationally expedited “We Can’t Wait” projects.
Obama announced the list of projects over the weekend (with the official announcements coming on Monday, even though the local media was alerted of the news ahead of time), including the $3.5 billion Northwest effort that includes an entirely new Interstate 5 bridge spanning the Columbia River and connecting Washington and Oregon, complete with an extension of Portland’s light rail system into Vancouver, Wash.
The project itself has been moving slowly, with permits and even final bridge design plans taking much longer than anticipated, all while disagreements over funding still haven’t been fully worked out. While Obama’s designation doesn’t include a bundle of funding to help pay for the undertaking, the distinction for the project could still speed the process.
Under the We Can’t Wait effort, the White House expects bureaucratic layers to more easily strip away as coordination between agencies speeds up, saving months on the four “expedited” projects.
Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber says in a prepared statement “this federal support will help coordinate CRC’s federal permits and demonstrates confidence that this project will get done.”
The Northwest got more good news in the Obama announcement, as the Point Defiance Bypass project, also in Washington, made the list. The Point Defiance work aims to relocate rail lines near Tacoma to speed up passenger rail service. The other two projects are in Maine and North Dakota.
Even with setbacks, Columbia River Crossing bridge construction is slated to commence in 2014. The project calls for a 10-lane bridge to replace two aging and outdate spans, one built in 1917 and the other in 1958, serving as the northbound and southbound lanes of Interstate 5.
Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire says, in a statement, "this project will provide thousands of construction jobs, as well as long-term growth in one of the most trade-dependent areas of the United States.”
With a variety of government agencies getting behind the project, at least politically, it may simply be a matter of time—even more than has already been spent—before the Columbia River Crossing really gets going in earnest. That 2014 date may not really be that far off anymore.
Follow Tim Newcomb on Twitter here.