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I-5 Bridge Replacement Project Testimony

February 11, 2013
 
First, I want to thank the Oversight Committee and Chairs for their time, energy and work over the last 17 months reviewing every element of this project. 
In the late 90’s, business and community leaders expressed concern about the growing gridlock on the I-5 bridge over the Columbia River.  As you just saw in the video, Governor Gary Locke of Washington and I responded by assembling a bi-state group to review transportation needs and develop a long-range strategic plan to improve the critical I-5 trade corridor through the Portland-Vancouver region. 
 Today, we are here before you with a project that has been analyzed, criticized and downsized; independently reviewed by legislators, the Oregon State Treasurer, national and international experts, and ultimately approved by our local, state and federal partners.
We have a construction-ready project that increases safety, reduces congestion, and improves the transport of goods to markets across the state and around the world. 
The bridges, the first of which was built nearly a century ago, form one of the worst bottlenecks anywhere on the nation’s highway system.    The last lift bridge on I-5 acts as a stop light on the interstate and contributes to the congestion and the 400 crashes a year.  What’s more, these bridges are not seismically sound—they rest on Douglas Fir pilings driven into liquefiable soils, and they would collapse or be rendered unusable in one of the major earthquakes that experts tell us we should be prepared for. These bridges must be replaced with safe, modern, multimodal, and seismically sound spans if we are to maintain the vitality of our trade-dependent economy and realize the investments we are making today to ensure Oregon’s economic recovery.
We have now reached a point of urgency and opportunity.  Today the federal government, all the way up to the White House, strongly supports this project. With the support of Oregon and Washington’s  congressional delegations, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, and Homeland Security Secretary Napalitano, we have the essential financial partners to get this done if Oregon and Washington can show our commitment to the project by committing our resources. 
Because of the work we have done to date, we are one of the top rated projects in the nation, eligible to receive substantial federal support.  But with all of the fiscal challenges at the federal level, federal funds available for these kinds of projects will likely be cut and if we don’t act in 2013 other national projects will move to the front of the line for funding.  To secure this federal money now, Oregon and Washington need to demonstrate their commitment.  The U.S. Department of Transportation requires that the states make a binding commitment to provide their funding and spell out where that money will come from before they are able to commit federal resources.
HB 2800 is a substantial and prudent step forward.  It meets our federal partners requirements by committing state funds, but conditions Oregon’s funding upon Washington State’s commitment to its share of funds by September 30, 2013.   Additional provisions in HB2800 require progress in key permit areas and reduced financial risk. The financing tools outlined in the bill provide the flexibility to get the best deal for taxpayers with the least amount of risk.
Although I had hoped for a legislative proposal with new revenues to fund the project, I also said it was a legislative decision.  HB 2800 commits Oregon to funding the project from existing state revenues.  You’ll hear more about this from Chair Egan, but this approach demonstrates the state’s commitment to move the project forward and provides a timeframe and opportunity for Washington State to act that is critically important.  If the conditions of HB 2800 are met, I understand legislative leaders are committed to addressing the need for new revenue to meet the needs of the entire transportation system.
Over the course of more than a decade we have studied, and analyzed— and restudied and reanalyzed this project.  And through all this study and analysis we have developed a project that is ready to move forward— and a project that is stronger for the intense scrutiny it has withstood. It’s time that we seize the opportunity for a necessary investment in Oregon’s transportation system and our economy.  It’s time that we build this bridge.

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