Greg Johnson will lead the charge to replace the Interstate 5 bridge between Oregon and Washington.

COURTESY ODOT - Greg Johnson will lead the Interstate Bridge Replacement Project.A new leader has been appointed to lead the two-state Interstate Bridge Replacement Project.

Gregory C. Johnson will straddle the divide between Oregon and Washington as each state's department of transportation inches toward replacing the aging Interstate 5 bridge across the Columbia River.

"I look forward to working with the stakeholders to find solutions to the unique challenges that need to be addressed to move this critical infrastructure project forward," Johnson said in an announcement Thursday, June 11. "I am excited to dive in and begin this challenge."

The on-and-off quest to replace the six-lane highway span has been ongoing for nearly two decades, though the most recent push took off on Nov. 18 when Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee formally declared their intent to restart the project.

Washington lawmakers have allocated $35 million to revving up the program office that Johnson will lead, while the Oregon Legislature chipped in $9 million as an initial contribution, according to an end-of-year progress report.

Many hurdles remain.

Planners say it will take an estimated three to five years and $100 million to complete required environmental review procedures and win federal approval. While the feds undoubtedly would pay for part of the build, local financing also must be obtained. During the project's last iteration, planners for the Columbia River Crossing said borrowing based on future toll revenue could raise up to $1.57 billion in funding for construction. Another major sticking point is whether the project will include the long-dreamed-of expansion of Yellow Line MAX rails into Vancouver.

But for now, the heads of both state transportation agencies are harmonizing on a happy tune.

"With his impressive range of technical and leadership experience, we are confident that Greg is the right person to take the helm of this critical program and help bring it to completion," said ODOT Director Kris Strickler.

"This is one of the most important transportation projects in the country, and we are all committed to seeing it through," added WSDOT Secretary Roger Millar.

Johnson is leaving a vice president position at national engineering firm WSP USA for his new gig, and previously held leadership positions in Maryland and Michigan departments of transportation. After relocating from Michigan, his first day on the job will be July 6.

Zane Sparling
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