Feds pledge $600M for new I-5 bridge linking Washington and Oregon

The federal government will plunk down more than a half-billion dollars to help cover the cost of replacing the Interstate 5 bridge across the Columbia River, between Washington and Oregon.

A grant of $600 million will go to the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program, the entity overseeing the effort. It’s the first sizable commitment of federal funding to what is one of the most significant infrastructure projects pending in the region and along the West Coast.

Three Washington Democratic lawmakers — U.S. Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, and U.S. Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, whose district is on the Washington side of the bridge – announced the grant award on Friday. 

There’s still a long road ahead to getting the bridge fully funded and built. 

The award will cover about 8% to 12% of the estimated $5 billion to $7.5 billion total expense of replacing the bridge. One of the bridge’s two spans is over a century old, the other about 65 years old, and the entire bridge is at risk of collapse in a major earthquake.

Work is already underway in areas like environmental evaluation, toll planning, and design. Construction is anticipated to begin in late 2025 and to last until 2032. 

Nearly 132,000 vehicles, on average, traveled across the bridge each weekday in 2021, according to the Southwest Washington Regional Transportation Council.

The grant dollars are from the federal Mega Grant Program, which funnels money to complex regional projects.

Washington and Oregon have both committed about $1 billion to the bridge replacement and anticipate tolls will generate between $1.1 billion and $1.6 billion.

Paying for the bridge has been a hot topic in Oregon, with Gov. Tina Kotek asking the Legislature to limit bond funding for the project to pay for other priorities, like housing. This session, amid an uproar by climate activists over funding a large transportation project, lawmakers called on the state to issue $250 million in bonds in each of the next four two-year budget cycles as Oregon’s down payment on its portion. Lawmakers said the remaining $750 million may end up coming  from other sources, with the state planning a major transportation funding package in 2025.

Oregon Democratic leaders, U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, Gov. Tina Kotek and U.S. Reps. Earl Blumenauer and Suzanne Bonamici welcomed the announcement, saying the project will be good for truckers and commuters while promoting safety by making the bridge seismically resilient. Blumenauer and Kotek added that the plans for light rail, with pedestrian and cycling lanes, will also help reduce emissions, something that activists reject.

Discussions and planning around replacing the bridge have gone on for about 20 years. But in recent months, lawmakers and others have become more optimistic that the project is headed toward construction as funding and support in both states is shored up.

Gluesenkamp Perez visited the bridge with White House infrastructure coordinator Mitch Landrieu in September to stress the importance of replacing it. On Friday, Gluesenkamp Perez’s office said Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who visited southwest Washington in July, called to congratulate her on the grant.

Cantwell and Murray both highlighted their efforts to press for federal support for the project over the years. Murray noted conversations she had about it dating back to 1992.

Lynne Terry, Oregon Capital Chronicle editor in chief, contributed to this story.


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Bill Lucia - Washington State Standard