The Columbia River Crossing—the new one that Oregon wants to do by itself after Washington spurned the project—is now officially okay by the US Coast Guard, a major development that clears away one of the larger hurdles still standing in the project's way.
In a release today, the Oregon Department of Transportation announced the Coast Guard has granted a permit [pdf] "to construct a new I-5 bridge over the Columbia River at a height of 116 feet and remove the existing obsolete bridge."
It's a "major step forward," ODOT Director Matt Garrett said in the statement, one "that recognizes the importance of this project and its economic benefits to the state, region and nation." But the news also comes at a touchy time for the modified CRC proposal.
It's still unclear whether Gov. John Kitzhaber will call the legislature into special session to push the project. Right now, it's not expected to come up at the session set to begin next week—that's for pension reform, taxes and, bewilderingly, genetically modified organisms.
But, while the Coast Guard's approval is a big step for the project—plagued by concerns it is too low, which forced proponents to ink deals with three businesses that would be hurt by its 116-foot height—it comes on the heels of less-hopeful news. The Oregonian yesterday reported on a letter from State Treasurer Ted Wheeler laying out a list of concerns and questions about the financial viability of an Oregon-only CRC.
"It is premature to conclude that the project can work, financially," the letter says [pdf]. "The answer will ultimately depend on required negotiations and agreements that are not completed."
Looming large among those negotiations, Wheeler said, is a deal with Washington officials that would explicitly let Oregon set tolling for the bridge for years to come. "These agreements must withstand economic and political changes over three decades," the letter said.
Also needed, Wheeler pointed out: the now-granted bridge permit, and over $1.7 billion in federal loans and grants.
And tolling projections for the CRC were called into serious question this week. As Willamette Week first reported, fresh projections by local economist—and steadfast CRC opponent—Joe Cortright suggest tolling the new Interstate 5 bridge would decrease its use dramatically, and nearly nearly max out capacity [pdf] on Interstate 205's Glen L. Jackson Memorial Bridge.
Once presumed dead, the CRC is back—and as confusing, foggy and contentious as ever.