LOS ANGELES - The fate of the multi-billion dollar project to replace interstate bridges over the Columbia River will be decided during Oregon's February legislative session.
In a letter to the state's legislative leaders, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber said the legislature must make a definitive action to move the project forward, or else he will shelve the $2.8 billion plan in March.
"Oregon must either decisively move the project to construction or refocus and reprioritize our resources," Kitzhaber said in the letter. "A project in limbo is the worst and most expensive outcome for Oregon, and continuing expenditures to sustain work without progress is a waste of money and resources."
The Columbia River Crossing project, which aims to replace the existing Interstate 5 bridges over the Columbia River, has been in the works for more than a decade. It suffered its most recent setback last year when Washington lawmakers failed to authorize their contribution of matching funds for the venture.
Oregon is still pushing forward with the project, avoiding the need for an immediate contribution from Washington by eliminating planned improvements on the Washington side of the river.
Even without funding from Washington, the project still needs an executed intergovernmental agreement between the Washington State Department of Transportation and the Oregon Department of Transportation for bi-state construction.
It also requires a reauthorization from Oregon's state legislature, which will begin its short legislative session on Feb. 3 and end it on March 9.
Kitzhaber said in his letter that Washington Gov. Jay Inslee had indicated a willingness to sign an IGA agreement when the Oregon-led project was proposed.
"But an IGA, in my view, need not be a threshold question before Oregon legislators act," Kitzhaber wrote. "Instead, an executed IGA should be included as a condition in any Oregon legislation prior to release of Oregon funds."
If the legislature does not take action by March 9, Kitzhaber said Oregon's Department of Transportation will shut down the project and begin archiving materials.
"Indecision and further delays are simply too costly for Oregon," he said.
The governor had pushed for a special session in the fall to determine the project's future, but legislative leaders said that waiting until February would allow more time for the completion of the Investment Grade Analysis, which would provide important information on the viability of the financial plan.
State Treasurer Ted Wheeler completed his review of the plan in January, saying "even with more conservative projections, it appears there will be sufficient traffic to cover the bonding servicing costs."
However, he said he would need more certainty that the state can collect tolls from Washington drivers before he could approve the issuance of as much as $1.5 billion in state bonds.