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Oregon Secretary of State releases report on failed Columbia River Crossing that confirms Oregon and Washington must repay the federal government $140 million if progress is not made on restarting the project by September.

PORTLAND TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - Congestion on the I-5 bridge has gotten worse since the Columbia River Crossing project collapsed in 2014.Secretary of State Dennis Richardson encouraged Oregon and Washington to replace the aging and inadequate I-5 bridge in an advisory report of the failed Columbia River Crossing project released on Wednesday.

The report released on Feb. 13 said the problems that prompted the previous project — including congestion and safety concerns — have only gotten worse since the CRC collapsed in 2014 after the Washington Legislature failed to commit its state's share of the up to $10 billion project.

"Congestion in the Portland metropolitan area was a concern that led leaders in both Oregon and Washington to seek a solution for nearly two decades. Regional congestion has continued to grow, negatively impacting transportation for both communters and freight. The Interstate Bridge is one chokepoint contributing to this congestion," said the report, which also notes the bridge is the scene of frequent accidents and will not withstand an earthquake.

The report confirms that both states will need to repay the federal government its $140 million contributed to the project if progress is not made to restart the project by this September. Washington legislators have apologized for failing to pay their state's share, and have pushed to relauch the project.

The report says that both states should learn lessons from the previous failure, including:

Build upon prior bi-state bridge project success. Washington and Oregon should consider leveraging the approach used for their successful bi-state bridge efforts in the past. Historically, for each bridge, the two states assign design, construction, operations, and maintenance authority to one state and require the other to contribute 50% of the cost. This approach was successfully deployed for bi-state crossings including the Interstate Bridge, Glenn Jackson Memorial Bridge, and Umatilla Bridge. This method was also used by other states such as Iowa for the Mississippi River Bridge into Illinois and Maryland for the Woodrow Wilson Bridge into Delaware. This approach should be considered as an option moving forward.

Develop documented bi-state bridge procedures. We also found that neither state has detailed, documented procedures for how new bi-state bridge construction should be approached. Detailed policies and procedures are an important mechanism to ensure management directives are carried out. Examples of such guidance may be leveraged from other states such as Texas. The Texas Department of Transportation has documentation that outlines procedures for plan development, contracting, construction, and post-construction activities for bridges with adjacent states. While we recognize all bridge projects are different, detailed policies and procedures may serve as foundational guidance for each effort.

Enhance public engagement efforts. Any future project teams should also focus on increased public transparency and engagement. Former CRC staff noted that while a great number of individual contacts were made with the public, the quality of those contacts could have been improved. For example, while a large number of contacts may be engaged in settings such as booths at local fairs, staff that operate those booths often lacked the capability to field some of the questions. More training for individuals responsible for public engagement could improve these efforts. Well-trained staff will be able to field questions from the public and provide meaningful engagement. Additionally, those charged with engagement should work to explain the benefits in terms that matter to the public. For example, it may be beneficial for staff to explain how the bridge matters to an individual in southern Oregon in terms of the overall economic benefit to the state and what that could mean for their region.

Improve negotiation with stakeholders. Those charged with future bridge crossing efforts should also consider negotiating proactively with federal stakeholders such as the Federal Aviation Administration to obtain more leeway in bridge height. Project constraints surrounding Pearson and Portland International Airports limit the engineering options for a bridge span in the I-5 corridor. CRC staff and bridge engineers noted that early negotiation may have allowed for additional solutions.

Leverage other states' megaproject approaches. The two states should also consider approaches used by other states to successfully complete joint megaprojects. Specifically, the states of Kentucky and Indiana recently completed the Ohio River Bridges Project, a multi-year megaproject similar to the CRC in terms of overall cost and scope. To complete the project, the two states formalized their approach with legislation and an executive order to establish the Louisville-Southern Indiana Bridge Authority, a bi-state agency charged with developing and delivering the bridges, as well as maintenance and tolling going forward. The established Bridge Authority operates as an independent entity rather than a committee of external agencies. This more formal approach resulted in significant commitment from both states and serves as a successful model for such projects.

You can read the report here.

You can read a previous Portland Tribune story on the issue here.

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