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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘The state of Washington is making this a highest priority’: Gov. Jay Inslee visits Interstate 5 Bridge

Pedestrians enjoy sunny conditions with a view of the Interstate 5 Bridge at the Waterfront Vancouver on April 29, 2022.  (Amanda Cowan/Columbian)
By William Seekamp Vancouver, Wash. Columbian

Nearly four years to the day since Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and then-Oregon Gov. Kate Brown restarted the Interstate 5 Bridge replacement effort, Inslee revisited the bridge on Thursday to reaffirm his commitment to the project.

“I was frustrated 10 years ago when one of our great parties killed the bridge project; it wasn’t my party,” Inslee said while he stood in the gravel lot of the proposed bridge. “And I have been doing everything humanly possible I can to make sure we get this done.”

Inslee was in his first year as governor in 2013 when the Columbia River Crossing effectively died because the Legislature didn’t approve the state’s $450 million share of the project’s estimated $3.4 billion cost. Now Inslee is in his final term, and the two states are arguably in the strongest position ever to replace the 106- and 65-year-old bridge spans.

Washington committed $1 billion in 2022. Oregon matched in 2023. Both states have authorized tolling that’s expected to contribute $1.1 billion to $1.6 billion. Three federal grants are expected to contribute $2.5 billion.

“There are no guarantees in life or democracy,” Inslee said. “But you can be guaranteed that the state of Washington is making this a highest priority to get this done for the people of this community and the whole state. I can guarantee you that.”

In the decade since the Columbia River Crossing, the estimated price tag has nearly doubled to $6 billion, but could range between $5 billion and $7.5 billion.

Inslee said he lobbied White House senior adviser Mitch Landrieu and Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg about the replacement project when they visited the Evergreen State earlier this year. Inslee also said he plans to reiterate the commitment from both states in replacing the bridge when he and Buttigieg talk Friday.

Still, uncertainties about the replacement remain: whether the bridge will be stacked, side-by-side or a lift span; if it can win big-ticket federal grants (program officials did not win a $750 million grant last year), and if an agreement can be reached with river users impacted by the proposed 116 feet of vertical clearance on the replacement bridge.

“We were hoping you would have the big check today,” Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle told Inslee, referring to the $1.8 billion in two federal grants replacement program officials recently applied for. “Maybe for the holidays.”

This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from the Columbian and the Local Media Foundation.