WASHINGTON — Some major bond-funded transportation projects may get a helping hand as part of a White House initiative directing multiple federal agencies to help get critical projects done more quickly.
Four transportation projects will be expedited as part of the president's "We Can't Wait" program, the administration announced this week, including the $3.5 billion Columbia River Crossing linking Vancouver, Wash., and Portland, Ore.
The Office of Management and Budget will coordinate an effort to speed along the permitting and review process of the Columbia River Crossing project, the TIGER grant-funded Kennebec Bridge Replacement in Maine and Devils Lake Rail Improvements in North Dakota, and the Point Defiance Bypass project in Washington. TIGER stands for transportation investment generating economic recovery.
"Across the country, our investments in infrastructure are putting people back to work building and modernizing our transit systems, railroads, bridges and highways," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. "The administration is committed to doing its part to help communities across the country move forward with these critical projects as quickly and efficiently as possible."
The governors of both Washington and Oregon applauded the announcement that the stalled CRC project would be included, though the project failed to benefit from a similar push from President George W. Bush in 2008. The project to replace the Interstate 5 bridge, improve five miles of the highway, extend light rail to downtown Vancouver and improve bicycle and pedestrian facilities is to be supported by more than $1 billion of toll-backed bonds, along with federal and state money.
"This federal support will help coordinate CRC's federal permits and demonstrates confidence that this project will get done. Now it is time for Oregon and Washington to show our commitment so we can get this going," said Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber.
"This project will provide thousands of construction jobs, as well as long-term growth in one of the most trade-dependent areas of the United States," said Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire. "We are committed to taking the necessary steps to begin bridge construction in 2014."
The project has been seeking the necessary final federal approvals since December 2011, the governors said in a joint release.
Critics of the project have contended that the costs of the project could soar, and that the tolling revenue estimates are far from accurate. Oregon Treasurer Ted Wheeler reported last month that a review found the cost estimates to be reasonable but that the revenue estimates were too optimistic.
The Devils Lake Rail Improvements project, which got a $10 million TIGER grant in 2011, is part of a $100 million program to improve Amtrak's infrastructure. The $25 million Kennebec Bridge replacement will leverage TIGER funds to replace an 80-year-old movable bridge at the end of its service life with a high-level fixed bridge.
Coordination among agencies under "We Can't Wait" will save between several months and a year on these projects, the White House said. The president plans to announce additional expedited projects in coming weeks.