WILSONVILLE, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — Following the release of a report from the Oregon Department of Transportation showing an exorbitant price tag and the need to replace rather than retrofit the Boone Bridge to complete a project that also would include the addition of an I-5 southbound auxiliary lane designed to quell traffic issues, Wilsonville leaders are shifting their focus to another study that could get the project ready for federal funding.

Mayor Julie Fitzgerald described moving forward on this project, which would prepare the bridge for a major earthquake and could significantly reduce traffic at the I-5 bottleneck (according to a previous study), as her No. 1 priority.

“I think everyone on the (Wilsonville) council agrees with that,” she added.

The $300,000 study released to the Legislature Jan. 21 showed that replacing the Boone Bridge (sections of which are over 60 years old) would be more cost-effective than retrofitting it (which was the initial plan) and estimated the cost would be between $450 million and $550 million. A funding source has not been identified.

Despite the expensive dollar figure, one positive that Mark Ottenad, the city’s public affairs director, took away from the report is that ODOT pegged 2027 as the start date for construction, with completion slated for 2030. The department previously had planned for the project to be completed sometime between 2028 and 2040. But how quickly funding is secured could determine how soon the new bridge is built.

“If construction is beginning in 2027, it appears ODOT is trying to move this up in the queue,” he said.

Ottenad said this project likely will require federal funding in order to break ground. For that to be a possibility, he added, it needs a more exact cost estimate and more preparation.

In an email to Fitzgerald, an ODOT official said it would cost approximately $3.7 million to complete a 15% design for the project but that costs could increase if the work is delayed. That analysis would determine a more exact cost figure. Once that study is complete, the project would be put on hold until funding is received, the official said.

“We’re going to be lobbying to greenlight funding for that (the new study) in this session,” Ottenad said. “We probably at the same time will talk to our federal delegation about it and prime them. However, it may be a bit early to make a request without having more definitive design and cost numbers to get a special federal congressional designation.”

Along with the Legislature, Fitzgerald said she would raise this issue as the chair of transportation and land use committee for the Metropolitan Mayors Consortium as well as Clackamas County committees.

Fitzgerald said the decline in traffic due to the COVID-19 pandemic does not lessen the need for this project.

She noted that over 90% of Wilsonville workers rely on the Boone Bridge to get to their job and the freeway collects a relatively high proportion of freight traffic.

“We know it’s going to be nine years minimum before we can drive across a new bridge. We need to elevate this and get it going. We need regional, state and federal partners working with us,” she said.

Wilsonville’s two representatives in the Oregon House of Representatives, Courtney Neron, D-Wilsonville, and Christine Drazan, R-Canby, said they are interested in moving this project forward as well.

“As a strong supporter of the 2019 bill that directed this study, this report is an important step in the process to enhance Boone Bridge,” Drazan said in a statement to Pamplin Media Group. “My district knows how critically important the proposed southbound auxiliary lanes are to alleviate bottlenecks, improve travel time reliability, and enhance safety on I-5. The report’s recommendations will inform the Legislature’s work to make real this critical infrastructure investment.”

Neron said preparing the project for federal funding will be a focus of hers during this session but that the Legislature may need to consider a longer timeline given the high cost.

Ottenad’s sense is that projects to widen I-205 and seismically retrofit the Abernethy Bridge and add shoulders and auxiliary lanes to I-5 at the Rose Quarter are higher priorities for the Legislature than the Boone Bridge project.

“While this is on the radar scope, it may not be at the highest priority level at this point. The city will continue to stress it’s an important priority and raise the importance of the issue to our legislators,” he said.

According to a graphic from ODOT, the Boone Bridge project would be more expensive than the I-205 and Abernethy Bridge project ($410-$460 million) and less expensive than the I-5 Rose Quarter Improvement Project ($715-$795 million). A large congressional transportation funding bill would increase the likelihood of these projects receiving funding, Ottenad said. He also noted that Oregon Rep. Peter DeFazio is the chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and Sen. Jeff Merkley is on the appropriations committee in his chamber.

“Oregon may be well positioned to get support for some mega projects,” Ottenad said.

In the meantime, Ottenad said projects to extend the WES transit service to Salem and the city’s French Prairie Bridge project, which would add a bicycle, pedestrian and emergency vehicle bridge across the Willamette River, could divert some I-5 traffic. The French Prairie Bridge project was highlighted in the Boone Bridge report as a way to send multimodal traffic off I-5. That project, which is estimated to cost $36-47 million, also is awaiting funding.

“ODOT is recognizing having bikes and peds on the shoulder of I-5 is not the safest thing to do even though it is allowed,” he said.