Confidential Treasury Memo Shows CRC Still Faces Major Hurdles

Oregon-only project is political and legal challenge

Gov. John Kitzhaber handed state Treasurer Ted Wheeler a difficult assignment last month: the governor asked Wheeler to perform a quick financial analysis of whether Oregon could go it alone on the Columbia River Crossing project.

Kitzhaber chose that path after Washington lawmakers this summer refused to provide $450 million to help fund the proposed $3.4 billion effort to build a new interstate bridge, extend light rail to Vancouver and rebuild key interchanges on both sides of the bridge.

WW has obtained a confidential internal treasury draft memo  (PDF) which attempts to answer Kitzhaber's question before the Sept. 30 deadline he set.

Wheeler's spokesman, James Sinks, says the internal memo is simply an update and that the treasurer's office is still waiting for more information before making a final call.

But it's clear from the memo that the deal is a long shot.

It would require an aggressive legal opinion from the Oregon Department of Justice—effectively saying it's OK to build a bridge into a state that has refused to fund the bridge. It would also depend on the GOP controlled Congress, which is hostile to transit and short of cash, to give Oregon $850 million outright and loan us another $900 million at favorable rates.

Getting Congress on board would be a major feat. So would selling the deal to hostile Washingtonians. There are some tough pills to swallow in the memo. For the deal to work, Clark County would have to accept light rail and the City of Vancouver would have to find a way to pay for light rail operations. 

Borrowing requirements would prohibit Washington and Oregon drivers from renewing their drivers' licenses and vehicle registrations if they had unpaid tolls.

And finally, the debt service depends on new tolling analysis that was prepared by Parsons Brinkerhoff, one of the firms that hopes to help build the bridge. In the past, the tolling numbers provided by the project have been highly suspect, as Wheeler's 2011 review found.

Here's a summary from Laura Lockwood-McCall, Wheeler's debt manager (bold by WW):

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