The Oregon Department of Transportation this afternoon released its long-awaited investment grade analysis of the proposed $2.8 billion Oregon-only Columbia River Crossing project.
The highway department's conclusion: there will be enough traffic paying tolls to support construction. "The key finding from this analysis on toll-generated revenue and financing concludes that tolling the I-5 bridge produces the revenue necessary to construct the toll-funded project element," wrote ODOT director Matt Garrett to Gov. John Kitzhaber and legislative leaders today.
Legal questions about whether Oregon can spend highway money in Washington as planned and can enforce toll collection in Washington remain unanswered, as does whether the Washington Legislature, which last summer rejected the CRC, would allow Oregon to build the project into that state.
The full investment grade analysis is here.
The new numbers come a week before an Oregon interim legislative oversight committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on the CRC on Jan. 14.
Before placing too much stock in today's news, it's worth taking a run through this memo from Portland economist Joe Cortright. Cortright has reviewed previously tolling projections by ODOT's number crunchers, the consulting firm CDM Smith, and found the firm's projections for toll revenue have often being optimistic.
"In several cases, including toll roads in California, Texas and Virginia," Cortright, who's consulting for CRC opponent Plaid Pantry says, "CDM Smith has prepared estimates that were so wildly optimistic that the projects have been face or have been forced into bankruptcy or financial reorganization."