PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — As reports have shown President Joe Biden’s visit to Portland will highlight resiliency in the nation’s airports, local leaders are still hoping for a focus on large infrastructure projects that have been years in the making.
“The I-5 bridge replacement absolutely needs federal investment,” Lynn Peterson, the president of the Metro Council, said.
The latest bridge replacement estimate is pegged at around $4.5 billion dollars. Each state should commit $1 Billion towards the project, with Washington already dedicating its share.
“I think the federal government has the responsibility to the lion’s share portion of this bridge,” Rep. Jamie Herrera Beutler said in an interview with KOIN 6.
Herrera Beutler, a Republican representing Washington’s third district in the southeast corner of the state, voted against the $1.2 Trillion infrastructure plan President Biden is expected to tout on his visit to the Rose City.
Her objections were over inflation concerns and money dedicated to transit projects outside of roadways. Non-vehicular transit (i.e. a light rail) has doomed a replacement for the I-5 bridge before and without a design, Herrera Beutler is skeptical of accountability for the project saying, “no one has shown me what they want to do.”
“Before this community is put on the hook for a lot of money, I want to know that the bridge design is going to meet our needs and our pocketbooks,” she said. “Part of that means don’t make the mistakes that doomed the last project.”
There have been concepts released for the project, but no final plan has been decided on.
Each state received hundreds of millions of dollars for infrastructure from the federal government in the infrastructure plan, but not enough to cover the cost of the project entirely.
During a press event last week, Sen. Maria Cantwell, a Democrat representing Washington, said the replacement project should qualify for the money dedicated to larger projects.
“I think both sides of the river have respect and empathy to the different challenges that each side of our region faces in a way that maybe we did not before. So, I am optimistic,” Peterson said.
One-half of the bridge is over 100 years old, built in 1917 — the other half was completed in 1958. Both sides are at risk of collapsing if a large enough earthquake were to strike.
But outside of hypotheticals, there’s an everyday problem needing to be solved: congestion.
A study from the American Transit Research Institute, a trucking research firm, says over $1.2 million dollars is lost by commuters and shipping companies because of congestion around Portland. It identified the I-5 bridge as the 33rd worst spot for congestion in the country, and the I-5/I-84 interchange as the 28th worst.
The traffic holds up the estimated $188 million dollars of goods ODOT says traverses I-5 each day.
“Our region is growing and we’re going to need increased capacity. That capacity can come in several different ways, including high-capacity transit, as well as the ability to make the three thru lanes in each direction function better,” Peterson said.
Peterson says President Biden’s visit can spotlight regional issues to bring solutions to disagreements.
“It can help bring everybody together and just focus that light on those issues and build relationships so that when we need to pick up the phone and say we’re ready to move on a project, we know that we’ll have the Biden Administration behind us,” he said.