Lawmakers today are getting a first look at how Oregon's $450 million down payment on the proposed $3.5 billion Columbia River Crossing project might come together.
House Bill 2800 attempts to address some of the many concerns critics of the project have expressed about the project. The bill's provisions would limit Oregon's contribution; withhold the money until Washington puts up an equal amount; make Oregon's contribution contingent on a federal commitment; and—at some point in the future—produce an investment-grade analysis of the project's underlying assumptions.
Lawmakers will be pressed by legislative leaders to vote on spending $450 million on the bridge before they get a serious, independent financial analysis.
The key assumptions involve traffic volume and the toll revenue that traffic would produce. As Portland economist Joe Cortright has demonstrated, the Oregon Department of Transportation's own figures show that the number of vehicles crossing the I-5 bridge daily is 15 percent lower—about 19,000 vehicles per day—than the figures on which the project built its financial assumptions.
Here is the part of the bill that includes some proposed safeguards:
SECTION 3. (1) As used in this section, “Interstate 5 bridge replacement project” means the project described in section 2 of this 2013 Act.
(2) The total cost of the Interstate 5 bridge replacement project may not exceed $3.413 billion after the effective date of this 2013 Act.
(3) For the purpose of financing the Interstate 5 bridge replacement project, the State Treasurer may not have outstanding, at any one time, bonds in an amount exceeding $450 million of net proceeds, plus an amount determined by the State Treasurer to pay estimated bond-related costs of issuance. This subsection does not apply to borrowings from the United States government or borrowings intended to be repaid or secured by toll revenues generated by the Interstate 5 bridge replacement project.
(4) The Department of Transportation may not request and the State Treasurer may not issue any bond to finance the Interstate 5 bridge replacement project unless: (a) The State of Washington has appropriated, authorized or otherwise committed sufficient funds to satisfy the United States Department of Transportation requirement for a proposed full funding grant agreement application no later than September 30, 2013; (b) The United States Department of Transportation has submitted a full funding grant agreement application, in amount of at least $800 million, for congressional review; (c) The State Treasurer has reviewed and approved an ongoing investment grade analysis and a comprehensive financing plan for the project that demonstrate sufficient cash flows and sources of funds to pay the estimated costs of the project so that additional revenues from borrowings in addition to those described in subsection (3) of this section are not necessary; and (d) The United States Coast Guard has issued a general bridge permit for the main channel of the Columbia River for the project.