Interstate Bridge freeway expansion could cost up to $7.5 billion

(Source: Interstate Bridge Replacement Program)

As expected, the cost of a project to widen Interstate 5 between Portland and Vancouver and replace the Interstate Bridge has ballooned in costs

What started as the $3 billion Columbia River Crossing project more than a decade ago, is now estimated to cost between $5 and $7.5 billion according to a new estimate just released a few minutes ago. Here’s more from the project:

The new projected cost identified an estimate range of $5 to $7.5 billion, which was created by internal and independent experts, including a rigorous process that considers cost escalation and inflation factors affecting transportation projects across the country. Those factors include historically high inflation rates, workforce shortages, materials cost increases due to supply chain issues, and other market conditions.  

“Construction projects across the country are experiencing unprecedented cost increases due to supply chain issues and increasing material and labor costs as well as other factors, and our program is no exception,” said Johnson. “We are confident that the program will land within the projected cost estimate range, and we are actively working to secure funding and manage cost escalation risks.” 

The previous conceptual cost estimate identified a high end of $4.8 billion when it was developed in 2020, based on the scope of the previous Columbia River Crossing project. The new cost estimate for the IBR program covers the components of the Modified Locally Preferred Alternative, which in July 2022 was discussed with the Bi-State Legislative Committee and endorsed by the regional program partners of the Executive Steering Group.  

If it ever gets built, the project would include a new bridge, more freeway lanes, extension of light rail over the Columbia River, three new rail stations, two new smaller access bridges (North Portland Harbor and a Hayden Island access bridge) and two interchanges.

The new estimate comes as lobbyists, policymakers, and project staff from Oregon and Washington gear up for the legislative session where the first funding commitments are expected to be made. A detailed financial plan is “anticipated” to be released early next year. The $6 billion price tag doesn’t appear to change the $1 billion funding request the project will make from both state legislatures. Here’s where they say the money will come from (from a fact sheet released today):

  • Existing state funding – $100 million 
  • Connecting Washington transportation package – Mill Plain Interchange – $98 million 
  • Move Ahead Washington transportation package – $1 billion 
  • Anticipated Oregon funding – $1 billion 
  • Toll funding – $1.25 to $1.6 billion – This range is consistent with toll revenue estimates for the prior program. A Level 2 Traffic & Revenue analysis for IBR will be reviewed by both states. 
  • Federal grants – $860 million to $1.60 billion 
  • Federal Transit Administration New Starts Capital Investment Grants – $900 million to $1.1 billion 

In their statement today, the IBR project attempts to stave off concerns from elected officials who might balk at the high cost. Under the headline on their cost estimate fact sheet that reads, “The benefits of acting NOW” they warned: “With the recent passage of a historic federal
infrastructure package, our region has a once in a generation opportunity to receive an infusion of potentially billions of dollars of federal funds through the IBR project. These funds are highly competitive, and if not spent in our region, they will go to other infrastructure projects in the U.S.”

This coming Monday (12/12) at 9:00 am at a meeting of the Joint Interim Committee On The Interstate 5 Bridge, IBR project staff will present updates on the cost estimate and financial plan to members of the Oregon Legislature.

UPDATE, 3:18: Just Crossing Alliance, a coalition of 32 nonprofits pushing for a “right sized” project has issued a statement about the new cost estimate:

“The Just Crossing Alliance supports a seismically resilient crossing for Interstate 5, but ODOT is once again demonstrating they do not have this highway expansion project under financial control, which could jeopardize the potential of replacing the bridge and adding needed public transit options… The multiple billion dollars in freeway expansion represent a huge opportunity cost to our state that could go towards green and accessible transportation investments instead of concrete.”

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Founder of BikePortland (in 2005). Father of three. North Portlander. Basketball lover. Car owner and driver. If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at maus.jonathan@gmail.com, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

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X
X
11 months ago

$7.5 billion is a large enough number that I actually can’t get my head around it. It resembles the total annual before-tax income for everybody who lives in the Portland city limits. It’s the approximate cost of 150 Blumenauer Bridges.

A person might say that we don’t need a bunch of bike-ped bridges but the reason the Blumenauer bridge cost $50 million is that it was built to support heavy emergency equipment in the event that an earthquake damages or destroys nearby spans over I-84. It’s not a toy, it’s a public good.

For $2 billion Oregon could build 20 significant bridges to the same seismic standard and lay down 500 miles of very ample bikeway. Is that selfish, coming from a person who prefers to bike? Consider the benefits:
-A network of resilient roadways that will remain reasonably intact when older infrastructure falls apart.
-A destination and route for travelers that will power up local economies for several decades.
-Workers will receive a bigger slice of the investment since bike-ped infrastructure is relatively labor intensive.
-A transportation alternative that doesn’t care who you are or how much money you have.
-A reason for people to use less extracted energy and a reward for those who make that choice.

The big river bridge is important. That doesn’t mean it should suck up 30 years of transportation funds.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
11 months ago
Reply to  X

IBR (is) recognized by President Biden as “one of the most economically significant bridge projects in the nation”

Jimbo
Jimbo
11 months ago

Guess it would be a pipe-dream to ask to cut the freeway lanes and just add the light rail stuff. Despite all of the talk behind cutting down VMT we sure do seem to be putting our money behind increasing it.

Zach A
Zach A
11 months ago
Reply to  Jimbo

I wonder if they will ever release a more detailed cost estimate (or have they somewhere else?). Comparing the project aspects to their respective costs would be pretty intersecting to see what we are paying for here. I imagine that those opposed to the freeway expansion could show the difference in cost for those additional lanes compared to a smaller, shorter bridge, the costs being spent on the interchanges, all the miles of highway that ISN’T the bridge.. On the flip side I would also expect opponents of the light rail to highlight how much money we would save by eliminating it. I sure would like more transparency on this project personally.

Todd/Boulanger
11 months ago

At this price it is still a bargain!…especially given the introduction of market rate fees (tolling, parking etc.) and its reinforcement of land use rules (that have been on the books since ~1996) and newer climate crisis / resiliency policies.

X
X
11 months ago
Reply to  Todd/Boulanger

Does $7.5B = $10B or more? We’ve had some experiences along this line.

How about we just mandate the side benefits you named if those are the best reasons for doing this fairly heavy lift?

Sometimes I eat a hot dog but never in a package deal where I have to eat 10 hot dogs. But wait, dogs 7 through 10 are free? Sign me up. /s

Todd/Boulanger
11 months ago
Reply to  X

Time will tell, if you are right…though do not forget, one of the positives (or negatives) of our federal system of infrastructure funding is that if OR/ WA does not take the $ then Texas etc. will be happy to use it (and even implement roadway tolls…as they have more toll roads there than ‘eco-green’ Oregon does).

If a great and good multi modal multi state bridge project cannot be designed (and funded) during the Pete+Biden era then I am not sure when it can be during my lifetime.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
11 months ago
Reply to  Todd/Boulanger

NC and Virginia are already lined up – they have the largest state highways systems in the USA, far larger than either CA or Texas, as all the rural county roadways and many urban collector stroads are part of the state highways system there (as well as in WV) – a holdover from the 1930s Great Depression.

ro
ro
11 months ago
Reply to  Todd/Boulanger

I am sure you did not mean it that way, but this sounds a little like the DOT sales pitch – expand freeways and solve problems that have never been solved. If the land use rules on the books for the past 25 years worked, we would not need a freeway expansion. if the pubic took the climate crisis serious, people would stop driving cars. The only part of the $7.5 bridge scam that is a bargain is the millions paid to the PR consultants. They are awesome.

Todd/Boulanger
11 months ago
Reply to  ro

Just as I wrote to this blog back in the 00’s per the CRC…this bi-state project is hyper complex (same as in 1917) and needs to serve the wishes and needs of both Clark(e) and Multnomah Counties. If ‘Portland’ wants to kill the IBR AND work on climate then its going to have triple down (in more complex political era) and create a new alternative Mount Hood Freeway plan.

Vancouver can be a pivot point / beachhead for higher capacity transit (not BrT] and bike super highway into Clark County OR be a northern barrier. Vancouver council just signed up for a climate plan (more aligned with Portland’s I expect …as I doubt Clark County’s would limit driving if it ever even has one.m). The IBR bridge would also become a bridgehead for modern highway tolls into Oregon, something that Oregon lags behind Washington and other states.

X
X
11 months ago
Reply to  Todd/Boulanger

What if we put some of this brain sweat into designing effective transportation that has a smaller footprint on the land instead of an ever larger one?

Bikes would do it, bikes work for me right now, but I can foresee a time when they won’t. Let’s look at some stuff besides more concrete for more cars.

Electric jitneys that operate on shared mv surface routes, use processing power to identify travelers whose routes are aligned, and cross the river at 70 mph on a guideway at controlled intervals? Whatever. But, SOVs for $10 billion? ¡**&*!

Todd/Boulanger
11 months ago
Reply to  X

X, glad bikes work well for you. Yes, bikes are an answer (and I am working on it if you ask around Portland etc). And there is a pilot private EV jitney in downtown Vancouver… but it’s going to take more than both to push the needle.

And as I have long suggested: one of the best things both regions can do for reducing cross river driving is coordinate a “mortgage” / “home value” & “jobs” swap for those that find their job (or home) to be on the opposite side of the river. The pandemic has helped some with the new era of telecommuting but we will see how long that works and depresses cross border driving.

BreadBoi
BreadBoi
11 months ago

ODOT is about to light the next 30 years of the Oregon’s transportation budget on fire. When toll revenue inevitably doesn’t meet projections, it will have to raid its own budget to make up the shortfall. Safe routes to school, Amtrak Cascades, even maintenance of highways will all have their funding raided to plug the budgetary hole caused by ODOT’s reckless spending and inability to control capital costs

Watts
Watts
11 months ago
Reply to  BreadBoi

It’s the legislature that will decide on the spending, and whether to move forward with this project, not ODOT. With strong Democratic control of state government and our new governor, I’m confident they’ll make the fiscally and environmentally responsible decision. Right?

Trike Guy
Trike Guy
11 months ago
Reply to  Watts

<sarcasm>
I’m confident they’ll make the fiscally and environmentally responsible decision. Right?
</sarcasm>

Fixed that for you for clarity 🙂

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
11 months ago
Reply to  BreadBoi

Highways are paid for with municipal infrastructure bonds up front, which in turn are paid with taxes that your children and grandchildren will pay – it’s they who won’t have safe routes to school and Amtrak, not us. if push comes to shove, I’m sure Oregon voters will eventually vote to impose a 21% sales tax on bikes – to keep their skin in the game.

Matt S.
Matt S.
11 months ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

Amtrak sucks and we really don’t have safe routes to school, more like a marketing ploy by the city. So what’s your point?

ro
ro
11 months ago

If will cost a lot more than $7.5 billion for sure. Former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown nailed it when he said:

“In the world of civic projects, the first budget is really just a down payment,” he wrote in a guest newspaper column in 2013. “If people knew the real cost from the start, nothing would ever be approved. The idea is to get going. Start digging a hole and make it so big there’s no alternative to coming up with the money to fill it in.”

qqq
qqq
11 months ago

But wait–I thought (from the comments that people who don’t like bike lanes keep posting) that gas taxes and vehicle registration fees cover all the costs of everything people drive on. That means this bridge is free if you don’t drive!

Mike Quigley
Mike Quigley
11 months ago

The Big One will intervene long before that bridge is built. Problem solved by Mother Nature.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
11 months ago
Reply to  Mike Quigley

Along those same lines, Dear Leader and Mr. Putin will take care of the trip generators in their premptive limited nuclear exchange, efficiently eliminating the need for extra lanes, Seattle, and global warming at the same time.

soren
soren
11 months ago
Reply to  Mike Quigley

“Most of the bridges along I-5, they’re fine,” Eberhard predicted. “My expectation is that the vast majority of bridges along these major corridors will still be usable after a magnitude 9 earthquake off the coast.

https://www.opb.org/article/2022/12/05/some-freeways-may-be-useable-following-the-big-one-per-new-modeling-by-uw/

Perhaps we don’t need a new bridge at all. It’s maddening to see so-called climate champions call for a slightly smaller new bridge given its massive amount of embedded carbon and its validation of SUV/persona-truck culture.

Bart Green
Bart Green
11 months ago

The expansion of freeway lanes will reduce traffic congestion, improve fuel economy and increase efficiency of freight on this vital corridor. Such an important project for the entire West Coast. Will be wonderful to have improved cycling infrastructure as well. Sure hope this project will not die.

Luci
Luci
11 months ago
Reply to  Bart Green

I challenge you to name projects throughout the country that have, in hindsight, met those goals? Los Angeles? Houston? Atlanta? Seattle? I must be missing the point of your dreamy description.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
11 months ago
Reply to  Luci

I’m not sure if Bart is being sarcastic or not, but he has summed up in 4 concise sentences the sentiment of the overwhelming majority of Oregonians and others about this project, particularly the Oregon state Democratic legislators who keep voting in favor of this boondoggle.

X
X
11 months ago
Reply to  Bart Green

If moving freight is really the issue then the rampant jerky operation of private motor vehicles is the actual problem. The popular notion that the cost of gas is what controls my next car trip can defeat all attempts to solve this problem.

Buster
Buster
11 months ago

I’m surprised the assumption for federal grants is so low. I always heard the feds will cover at least 50% of the cost.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
11 months ago
Reply to  Buster

It certainly used to be that way. For the original 1956 Interstate Highway plan, the feds covered 90% of the costs, but now the feds will only do 90% on certain experimental stuff like roundabouts, 83% for city buses, 80% on some bike and ped stuff (very select), and a continuous sliding scale on to more expensive items. 11% is typical for highway projects these days and up to 20% for bridges. Since 1993 the federal gas tax highway fund has not been able to keep up with inflation, so now the feds “borrow” from our income taxes and social security to pay for highways (and pointless wars.)

Fred
Fred
11 months ago

This ballooning cost is a great opportunity for ODOT and WSDOT to take up my suggestion of turning Hwy 30 into I-5 and building a new bridge up by St Helens. Turn the current I-5 bridge into a local bridge with dedicated space for bikes and public transit. Just do it!

Jim Calhoon
Jim Calhoon
11 months ago
Reply to  Fred

It is clear you have no understanding of what changes need to be made to a highway to bring it up to Interstate level. Take a look at the changes made to HW26 through Beaverton and Hillsboro. Now imagine that through Scappoose and St Helens. A lot of businesses and homes would be to removed to make room for a freeway. First I fairly certain that the cost would be more than a new Interstate bridge. But as a resident of Scappoose I like my town the way it is so, I will kindly ask you to take that plan and bugger off.

Trike Guy
Trike Guy
11 months ago
Reply to  Jim Calhoon

Oh, no! We can’t displace folks from their homes. (as long as they’re white, at least).

Jim Calhoon
Jim Calhoon
11 months ago
Reply to  Trike Guy

Really because most the people in St Helens and Scappoose are white (same in Portland) its ok to displace them to make up for displacing POC.

Todd/Boulanger
11 months ago

I wonder if the discussion here on BP blog comments (and other) about the IBR (and CRC) would be more nuanced if the ‘bridge’ were crossing the Willamette and connecting east / west sides of Portland AND the only two existing crossing points were the 405 Fremont and the old Hawthorne (pre renovation) Bridges…given similar eras and design / operations/ access limitations.

Gregg Dal Ponte
Gregg Dal Ponte
11 months ago

Reminiscent of ODOT fiasco Pioneer Mountain Eddyville US20 project escalating out of control. How soon people forget !

X
X
11 months ago

I’ve been checking that card all along, and you’re right. Our friends at ODOT have taken the rent money to the bar before this.

A person could also reference the Big Dig, which was projected at $2.8B and came in about 5 to 7 times that much. It’s actually not clear what it will finally cost in a range bigger than the stated price! Of course that’s not on ODOT.

There’s no mention of river navigation in this news release. Does the Coast Guard have the final say?

J_R
J_R
11 months ago

If the CRC project had not been stopped by the Washington state senate, the replacement bridge with really great bike facilities and a MAX extension to Vancouver would have been underway and nearing completion. Tolling would have been in place on I-5 and maybe I-205.

But, because of the delay, costs have skyrocketed. As I predicted a few years ago, the delay would increase costs and result in a new project that costs more and has less emphasis on bicycling, pedestrians, and transit. You can bet that with the new estimates of even higher costs, the alternative mode emphasis will be decreased even more. A new bridge will be built, maybe with bicycle and pedestrian facilities as bad as the I-205 bridge and no special provision for transit (just let the buses use the travel lanes). Cancelling the CRC project was a lost opportunity and a big mistake.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
11 months ago
Reply to  J_R

The savings from the cancellation did however fund the $132 million for outer Powell Boulevard and the $18 million for SE 136th Ave streetscape projects. I’m sure that when we cancel the RQ and CRC2, we can use those $8 Billion in savings for the Division cross-town elevated bikeway and the Pill Hill subway.

J_R
J_R
11 months ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

You may be “sure” that the $8 billion from RQ and CRC2 can be used to fund a cross-town bikeway and a subway, but you’d be wrong. A big part of the funding package for CRC or IBR was tolling; that can’t be implemented and diverted to other uses. The CRC had been allocated about a billion dollars for Max extension and $400 million from corridors for the future. That money went elsewhere. Different pots of money have different restrictions.

Todd/Boulanger
11 months ago
Reply to  J_R

J_R, good memory. And sadly it was not the “full” WA Senate that veto’d the funds but one or two party flippers that changed control of the senate.

JaredO
JaredO
11 months ago

“Could cost up to” makes it seem like it won’t cost more.

Happy to bet anyone $100 it will come in north of TEN BILLION dollars.

That’s the ODOT way, that’s their record on megaprojects, and that’s the way of megaprojects throughout history.

Overpromise, underdeliver, cost overruns, onto the next one… because the politics of this shit is too good to say no.

J_R
J_R
11 months ago
Reply to  JaredO

There are many reasons for project cost increases. The CRC included massive amounts for habitat restoration from past projects, archeological and cultural resource restoration, improvements to local infrastructure, etc. Everyone with something tangentially related to the existing bridge or the proposed project sought to have their project funded by including it in the CRC package. There was even money in the CRC project for improvements for the Max across the Steel Bridge. And there was a really good, comprehensive system to meet bicyclists’ and pedestrians’ needs. All good things, but including them all drove up the price.

You can bet that lots of the amenities included in the CRC that would have made it a multi-modal project will be eliminated or drastically scaled back to reduce the price.

When you go shopping for a bike or a dentist, do you always choose the cheapest, short-term option? I don’t.

JaredO
JaredO
11 months ago
Reply to  J_R

Zero walking or biking groups support the crap design of the CRC.

But you pretend the random small things are driving the price up, when it’s really the highway interchanges and construction.

When I decide how to spend my money, I consider other ways to spend my money that will meet my goals better and more affordably. So no, I don’t always choose the cheapest option. I also don’t buy from fraudulent businesses who promise one price and then come back and charge double that. While not delivering the product they promised.

whyat lee
whyat lee
11 months ago

I’m not trying to be snarky- but did anyone expect this price to go down as time went on? How much would we have saved if we’d built this 10 years ago? How much more will it cost in 10 years?

Todd/Boulanger
11 months ago
Reply to  whyat lee

Yep. Point taken.