If Oregon and Washington don't break ground on the Columbia River Crossing by spring 2014, the federal government may ask for its $178.5 million back.

The news was delivered in a letter (PDF) to Matt Garrett and Lynn Peterson—directors of Oregon and Washington's departments of transportation, respectively—on April 19 and obtained by WW. But Republicans in Washington's Senate—which is vowing to strike down any transportation bill that includes $450 million for the controversial megaproject—are calling the letter a scare tactic.

"We believe it's appropriate to remind you of the longstanding 10-year rule for expenditure of federal-aid funds and the possible need to repay those funds," the letter, signed by Daniel Mathis and Phillip Ditzler, the Washington and Oregon state division administrators for the Federal Highway Administration, reads.

It goes on to say that the first federal funds came through on April 22, 2004. To date, $187.5 million in federal money has been obligated by both states ($108.5 million in Oregon and $79 million in Washington) to the project, of which $113 million has been spent.

"It is these funds which may be subject to repayment should the CRC project, as represented in the December 2011 Record of Decision, fail to materialize," it finishes.

The project, as approved by the feds, includes light rail from Portland to Vancouver, five miles of highway expansion and the replacement of the twin Interstate 5 spans over the Columbia River.

Washington state Sen. Ann Rivers (R-LaCenter) questions the assertions in the letter and says it's a gimmick aimed at  manipulating lawmakers.

"Historically we haven't seen a claw back of funds," Rivers says. "The funds were used for the (environmental impact statement)—which was their intended purpose. This appears to be additional pressure designed to force the legislature into a false choice."