(Source: Interstate Bridge Replacement Program)

As expected, the cost of a project to widen Interstate 5 between Portland and Vancouver and replace the Interstate Bridge has ballooned in costs

What started as the $3 billion Columbia River Crossing project more than a decade ago, is now estimated to cost between $5 and $7.5 billion according to a new estimate just released a few minutes ago. Here’s more from the project:

The new projected cost identified an estimate range of $5 to $7.5 billion, which was created by internal and independent experts, including a rigorous process that considers cost escalation and inflation factors affecting transportation projects across the country. Those factors include historically high inflation rates, workforce shortages, materials cost increases due to supply chain issues, and other market conditions.  

“Construction projects across the country are experiencing unprecedented cost increases due to supply chain issues and increasing material and labor costs as well as other factors, and our program is no exception,” said Johnson. “We are confident that the program will land within the projected cost estimate range, and we are actively working to secure funding and manage cost escalation risks.” 

The previous conceptual cost estimate identified a high end of $4.8 billion when it was developed in 2020, based on the scope of the previous Columbia River Crossing project. The new cost estimate for the IBR program covers the components of the Modified Locally Preferred Alternative, which in July 2022 was discussed with the Bi-State Legislative Committee and endorsed by the regional program partners of the Executive Steering Group.  

If it ever gets built, the project would include a new bridge, more freeway lanes, extension of light rail over the Columbia River, three new rail stations, two new smaller access bridges (North Portland Harbor and a Hayden Island access bridge) and two interchanges.

The new estimate comes as lobbyists, policymakers, and project staff from Oregon and Washington gear up for the legislative session where the first funding commitments are expected to be made. A detailed financial plan is “anticipated” to be released early next year. The $6 billion price tag doesn’t appear to change the $1 billion funding request the project will make from both state legislatures. Here’s where they say the money will come from (from a fact sheet released today):

  • Existing state funding – $100 million 
  • Connecting Washington transportation package – Mill Plain Interchange – $98 million 
  • Move Ahead Washington transportation package – $1 billion 
  • Anticipated Oregon funding – $1 billion 
  • Toll funding – $1.25 to $1.6 billion – This range is consistent with toll revenue estimates for the prior program. A Level 2 Traffic & Revenue analysis for IBR will be reviewed by both states. 
  • Federal grants – $860 million to $1.60 billion 
  • Federal Transit Administration New Starts Capital Investment Grants – $900 million to $1.1 billion 

In their statement today, the IBR project attempts to stave off concerns from elected officials who might balk at the high cost. Under the headline on their cost estimate fact sheet that reads, “The benefits of acting NOW” they warned: “With the recent passage of a historic federal
infrastructure package, our region has a once in a generation opportunity to receive an infusion of potentially billions of dollars of federal funds through the IBR project. These funds are highly competitive, and if not spent in our region, they will go to other infrastructure projects in the U.S.”

This coming Monday (12/12) at 9:00 am at a meeting of the Joint Interim Committee On The Interstate 5 Bridge, IBR project staff will present updates on the cost estimate and financial plan to members of the Oregon Legislature.

UPDATE, 3:18: Just Crossing Alliance, a coalition of 32 nonprofits pushing for a “right sized” project has issued a statement about the new cost estimate:

“The Just Crossing Alliance supports a seismically resilient crossing for Interstate 5, but ODOT is once again demonstrating they do not have this highway expansion project under financial control, which could jeopardize the potential of replacing the bridge and adding needed public transit options… The multiple billion dollars in freeway expansion represent a huge opportunity cost to our state that could go towards green and accessible transportation investments instead of concrete.”

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