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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

ODOT Says CRC Tolls Would "Produce the Revenue Necessary"

Posted by Dirk VanderHart on Tue, Jan 7, 2014 at 5:01 PM

Great news, today, for the folks pushing an Oregon-only iteration of the on-again, off-again Columbia River Crossing. An investment-grade analysis of the project released today by the Oregon Department of Transportation found the plan to toll any eventual bridge is a sound one—a point that's been fiercely debated in past months.

In a summary of the lengthy analysis [pdf], just released by ODOT—and carried out by consulting firm CDM Smith— the agency says:

"Tolling will produce the necessary revenue to construct the replacement I-5 bridge. Using conservative and current traffic and revenue estimates, the Investment Grade Analysis on toll-generated revenue and financing finds that tolling the I-5 bridge produces the revenue necessary to construct the toll-funded project elements."

The finding will likely be touted as fresh legitimacy for the$2.8 billion project, which suffered a huge set-back last year when the Washington legislature failed to approve the state's $450 million portion of funding. That initially led many observers to assume the CRC was dead—there was an apparently-false storyline being floated by the bridge's backers that federal funding opportunities were about to dry up—but that didn't happen.

Instead, Oregon officials came up with a new plan, wherein Washington's money isn't needed—just a lasting permission by the state that Oregon gets to set bridge tolls. Federal money, it turned out, was still up for grabs.

Then, late last year, project detractors called into question some of the earlier numbers compiled CDM Smith. A new toll bridge, the argument by Portland economist Joe Cortright went, would push traffic on the Glen L. Jackson Memorial Bridge to the breaking point, reduce I-5 traffic, and wind up a financial bust. Not the case, ODOT says today.

Oregon Treasurer Ted Wheeler has said the blessing of an investment-grade analysis—along with the federal money and the agreement with Washington— is one of the huge remaining hurdles to moving forward with a bridge plan.

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