Were the reports of the demise of the Columbia River Crossing much too premature? Rumbling say yes. Reality, though, that remains a big murky.
With business leaders in Portland, Ore., governors in both Washington and Oregon and even agency spokespeople talking about revived versions of the new bridge project to replace the Interstate 5 span of the Columbia, connecting Portland to Vancouver, Wash., the $3.5 billion project once again muscles its way to the forefront of Pacific Northwest project news.
Maybe it's the $175 million already spent on project planning. Maybe it's the push of Oregon lawmakers and Portland business leaders to want to move forward. But there’s life, even if just faint life.
That life generates from Oregon. Washington, with the much less populous Vancouver and Clark County on its side of the bridge, seems more content to let the project fade away, especially as the state is already handling the massive State Route 99/Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement with North America’s largest bored tunnel under Seattle, not to mention a complete rebuild of the State Route 520 floating bridge, the longest in the world, which isn’t going quite as swell as everyone hoped.
Just this week, reports surfaced that the Columbia River Crossing project has continued to look for cheaper alternatives. The project doesn’t officially end—even though both governors have declared it dead and many of the 90 people working out of a Vancouver office have packed up—until Sept. 30, when the deadline for Washington state to match Oregon’s $450 million funding package runs out. But the few people left on the project have help from others who want the project to remain.
A joint letter from business folks in both states had both governors expressing support—remember, both governors were for the larger project too, it was Washington Republicans, essentially, that killed the funding for the project—for a slightly cheaper option focused on phasing.
Now a lot of folks are talking Columbia River Crossing again.
The new plan cuts out $650 million from the project, mainly by reducing extra highway upgrades. And it also eliminates the need for Oregon to work with Washington. The project could proceed with the already required permitting and needed planning, according to the proposal, by spending money from Oregon and the federal government and having all toll revenue go directly to Oregon.
That giant project so recently thought dead has sputtered a breath. Will it be enough for life? About $175 million says yes. As much as $3 billion say no. But at this point, it could be all up to Oregon.
Tim Newcomb is Engineering News-Record’s Pacific Northwest contributor. He also writes for TIME, Popular Mechanics, Sports Illustrated and more. You can follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb or visit his website here.