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Chair's Blog

Oregon keeps the I-5 Bridge Replacement Project moving November 2013
By Gregg Kantor

At last year’s Oregon Business Plan Summit, the state’s business community, the Governor and legislative leaders agreed on three priorities for Salem: invest wisely in education, fix PERS and build the I-5 Bridge Replacement Project.  Over the course of the regular and special sessions, with much support from the business community, we made tremendous progress on the first two objectives – PERS and education.  The last item on our “to do” list, is making the changes need to move to construction on the I-5 project and secure almost a billion dollars in federal funding support.

The project has reached some major milestones in the past two months on the path to a revised blueprint for a phased, Oregon-led development.  Federal partners including the Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Transit Administration both issued key letters indicating the project would not need to go through a lengthy and costly redo of its environmental impact statement.

In addition, the U.S. Coast Guard issued a permit for the project. The permit clears the way for the project to apply for an $800 million grant for the light rail construction and low interest federal loan program to construct the bridge. Lastly, the Clark County Washington transit authority, C-Tran, approved a measure outlining how the transit agency will address the maintenance and operations of their portion of the light rail project.

Overcoming these hurdles is significant progress, and we are thrilled to see stakeholders commit to this critical transportation initiative.  A new I-5 Bridge is a catalyst for the region’s economic future as it is essentially the gateway to Portland and Vancouver’s global trading base. It’s estimated that $40 billion of freight crosses the Interstate Bridge each year – including freight that arrives at the ports of Portland and Vancouver via the critical inland waterway.  At a time when our state’s economy is recovering from a recession, our ability to export and trade with the world is the one economic bright spot that is helping to keep our region afloat. Congestion and accidents on the current bridge impact our ability to efficiently move freight. Bridge lifts also bring the flow of traffic, the transport of people and goods, to a complete stop and put our region at an economic disadvantage in the global market.

In fact, the Value of Jobs Coalition released a report last month revealing that international trade is a huge economic driver for the region, providing a significant amount of jobs for Oregonians and substantial growth opportunities for Oregon businesses. Access to the region’s global trading gateway is a pivotal piece to the trade industry’s ability to be successful and compete in the global marketplace.  A new I-5 bridge is a key driver toward that success as the project includes new interchanges to Hayden Island, an industrial land haven, and Marine Drive, which provides access to the Port of Portland.

Next steps for the Oregon-led project are underway. The I-5 Bridge staff is working toward a set of legislative hearings in the coming weeks in preparation for taking up the issue in Salem. Washington Governor Jay Inslee has expressed his support for the phased approach to construction. Oregon State Treasurer Ted Wheeler is analyzing the bonding package and we are looking forward to seeing that report shortly. Assuming that report continues to show that the financing package is viable, risk issues are adequately addressed, and the few remaining project details get resolved, we’ll need to work together to move this project forward. It’s important for our economy, livability and the safety of drivers and river operators who face challenges everyday with the current bridge.

We have one more major task to accomplish on the Oregon Business Plan’s priority list.  With the I-5 Bridge Replacement Project as our number one transportation priority, we urge you to keep this project at the forefront of conversations regarding transportation in the region. We will continue to track the issue and keep our members updated and in the mean time, we encourage you to express your support by emailing Governor John Kitzhaber.
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