CRC project staff and Departments of Transportation in both Oregon and Washington have been putting the estimated cost of the new I-5 bridge and highway expansion project at about $3.6 billion; but a new study shows that the the project could end up costing as much as $10 billion.
The report was commissioned by Plaid Pantry CEO Chris Girard and the research was done by economist Joe Cortright for Impresa, Inc. Here’s an excerpt by Girard taken from the report’s cover letter (emphasis mine):
The report documents the unfortunate fact that the proposed CRC project’s real costs are more than double the widely-accepted figure of $3.6 billion. In reality the current design for the project will cost in the range of $8 billion to $10 billion, or more, and there is no available source of revenue to pay for it. The financing plan is a guess at best, and the revenue projections are significantly flawed with bad assumptions and unacceptable risk at every step. The numbers and analysis underpinning this project simply do not add up to a happy ending.
The Portland Mercury has a must-read Q & A about the study with Cortright that lays out all the details into plain English.
While reading about the report, I recalled another local bridge project where budget concerns loomed large. Back in May 2008, during a heated campaign for Mayor, then Transportation Commissioner (now Mayor) Sam Adams pulled the plug on a project that would have re-used the Sauvie Island Bridge and turned it into a biking and walking-only bridge over I-405 in downtown Portland at Flanders Street.
Amid rising controversy, Adams decided to scrap the project the day before it was set to go in front of City Council for a vote, telling BikePortland that he decided he couldn’t go forward with it because he couldn’t “provide reasonable assurance” that the project could be completed within the budget ceiling of $5.5 million he had guaranteed.
I realize the Sauvie/Flanders Bridge project is not even in the same league as the CRC; but I wonder… if Cortright’s analysis proves to be solid (and I suspect we’ll hear a response about it from the DOTs soon), will politicians who are on the fence about it be able to use budget concerns as a convenient way to pull support? Time will tell.
Download the study and read the interview with Cortright on The Portland Mercury website.