Flying in the face of a $10 billion* price tag that planners have put on the Columbia River Crossing Light Rail project is an Oregon Department of Transportation report that the two Interstate Bridges are good for another 60 years – and when their time ends a replacement bridge could cost as little as $500 million.

Page on website about the Interstate Bridges. Click to enlarge.

On a page detailing an electrical upgrade project that began on the Interstate Bridges in 2004, the transportation department points out that the two bridges have a full-time crew on deck to keep the existing structures in top operating condition. “This personalized care, combined with large maintenance projects, has kept the spans healthy and free of weight restrictions.”

“With ongoing preservation the bridges can serve the public for another 60 years,” the report says, adding that “Transportation funding experts estimate a replacement bridge would cost between $500 million and $1 billion.”

The CRC is a multi-billion-dollar plan to replace the existing Interstate Bridge spans between Vancouver and Portland, extend light rail into downtown Vancouver, and reconstruct six major highway interchanges between State Route 500 and Delta Park in Portland.

Opponents of the Columbia River Crossing Light Rail project (CRC) in its current form have been systematically overruled. Earlier this month, for example, U.S. Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler lost an attempt before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to make federal transit funding for major projects like the CRC contingent upon local referendums.

Given the controversy surrounding the project, Herrera Beutler has long called for a district-wide vote.

Forensic accountant Tiffany Couch has lambasted the project, its cost overruns, and apparent lack of transparency for months.

Couch and other of the project’s detractors want a simpler, less pricey option. The light rail component of the project also raises fears about increased crime.

I-5 Bridge

I-5 Interstate Bridge.

Despite the revelations from Couch and other experts, just this week the SW Washington Regional Transportation Council amended a transportation plan to earmark another $28 million in federal and state funds to the CRC. The extra funds include $24.25 million from the National Highway System and $3.83 million from the Washington State Department of Transportation.


One of the many issues Couch has raised is an apparent sweetheart deal with David Evans and Associates, the CRC’s largest private contractor. The Portland-based company first said it would finish environmental planning for the project by the end of 2009 at a cost of about $21.6 million.

But both timeline and costs have continued to grow, with a current $58.8 million price tag for David Evans and numerous extensions and financial pot sweeteners.

Critics say the escalating costs call into question the CRC’s ability to plan, and highlights the lack of accountability for private consultants.

Photo by Jordan Thompson

* The well-documented cost to taxpayers, if the CRC stays on budget, is $10 billion. This was established by the Cortright Report (PDF) which used data from an independent review panel hired by the governors of Washington and Oregon. (View the panel’s final report.)

See our continuing coverage of the Columbia River Crossing Light Rail project.

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