Columbia River Crossing Payout to Industry: $86 Million

Should the Columbia River Crossing go forward, Oregon taxpayers will pay three manufacturers $86.4 million to compensate for the bridge being built too low.

The cost—related to three major mitigation deals struck with manufacturers along the Washington side of the the Columbia River—was released this afternoon as part of a records request by WW and other media.

The CRC, now downsized to an Oregon-only $2.75 billion project to replace the Interstate 5 bridges, build up several Oregon freeway interchanges and put light rail into downtown Vancouver, must mitigate with the companies, whose business will be affected by twin bridges whose clearance will be no higher than 116 feet.

Contracts released today show that Oregon Iron Works will receive $11.8 million, Greenberry Industrial will get $24.8 million and Thompson Metal Fab will get $49.8 million.

The mitigation deals are a key component to winning over the U.S. Coast Guard, which must sign off on all new bridges, and ensure they won't obstruct reasonable current and future waterway use. It's not clear if mitigating the businesses, rather than increasing the bridges' height, will satisfy the Coast Guard.

The CRC has said it hopes to get the Coast Guard permit by Sept. 30—also the same date by which it says it must have legislative approval in order to remain in line for hundreds of millions in federal funding.

The $86.4 million in payouts to the companies is in the range of  the $30 million to $116 million the CRC told the Coast Guard it expected to pay in its January permit application. It's also less than the $250 million the project estimates it would cost to add a lift span to the new bridges. (Building a 125-foot bridge, planners say, would cost $176 million more).

The current I-5 bridges have a lift and a clearance of more than 170 feet, allowing massive barges to fit through. Oregon Iron Works, Greenberry and Thompson Metal Fab all protested the new plans, saying their ability to fit major projects under the bridge would be blocked by a 116-foot bridge.

The project also announced today that it has earned Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and the Washington State Department of Ecology, also needed for the Coast Guard permit.

The payouts to companies will only happen, the contracts say, if the project goes forward.

"We arrived at fair and equitable agreements that are well within previous mitigation estimates," Oregon Department of Transportation Director Matt Garrett says in a press release. "We have safeguards in place to ensure mitigation funds are provided only after the U.S. Coast Guard permit is received, necessary construction permits are secured, and ODOT awards a construction contract."

The project was declared dead by Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee in early July when Washington Senators rejected a transportation funding package for the CRC. But as WW reported not long after, the project was still plowing ahead with permits and other preparations.

And now, Kitzhaber has pushed for a Sept. 15 deadline for the project to provide full information on an Oregon-only project, which will rely on state bonds and pocketing all profits from tolling. But state Treasurer Ted Wheeler—who is charged with making sure the CRC won't bankrupt the state—has already said he likely won't be able to finish his analysis by the Sept. 30 cutoff.

Oregon legislators, who approved Oregon's $450 million for the CRC in February, are also wary. Many are saying they aren't going to put the state on the hook for the entire project without Wheeler's analysis.

This story will be updated.

WWeek 2015

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