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ODOT's I-205 widening and seismic improvement project would cost an estimated $450 million

PMG FILE PHOTO - While passing HB 3209 doesn't guarantee funding for the I-205 project, it will improve that chance. However, with the legislative session ending June 30, proponents are running out of time.Local representatives, from municipal governments up to the United States Congress, have thrown support behind the I-205 widening and seismic improvement project. Despite this universal support, the project has yet to find funding.

The project would include seismically retrofitting the Abernathy Bridge, which experts expect to collapse in the event of an earthquake and a roundabout at the I-205 Highway 43 interchange. In addition, the construction of auxiliary lanes in both directions of I-205 from Stafford Road to Highway 213, along with sound walls which were recently approved by voters in West Linn — all to address long and unpredictable congestion on this stretch of the highway and safety concerns.

State legislators including Rep. Rachel Prusak, D-West Linn, and Sen. Rob Wagner, D-West Linn, sponsored Oregon House Bill 3209 to make sure conversations around funding this project don't die. The legislators don't want to see a repeat of the 2017 legislative session when funding was allocated in House Bill 2017 but removed at the last minute before the bill was approved.

To show their support for the HB3209, West Linn Mayor Russ Axelrod, Clackamas County Commissioner Paul Savas and others attended an Oregon Transportation Commission meeting May 15 to give public testimony in defense of the bill.

"West Linn, and others, has been working closely with ODOT and other stakeholders on efficiency and improvement projects to address the dire condition," Axelrod said. "The I-205 project is also designed to integrate with other improvement projects already in progress for Highway 43 and surrounding roadways. The improvements are especially critical to tourism and other economic development plans already underway on the historic Willamette district on both sides of the river."

Fifty-three million dollars have already been spent on the I-205 project. ODOT spent the money on studies and project designs.

At the Transportation Commission Meeting, Prusak emphasized how costly it is to put the project off.

"Every year in delay will drive the price up by at least $15 million or more," she said.."

She also noted how important improving traffic on I-205 is for the local and state economy. These sentiments were repeated by Savas, Wilsonville Mayor Tim Knapp and State Rep. Christine Drazan, R-Canby, another of HB 3209's sponsors.

"I know how important a free-flowing I-205 is for farmers in my district to get their goods to market in a timely fashion," Drazen said. "Time is money and the longer these trucks sit in traffic, the harder it is for these farmers to compete in the local market."

Proponents hope to attract federal funding for the project, which is expected to cost $450 million.

"At this moment, ODOT has an application sitting before the U.S. Department of Transportation seeking $156 million to help pay for this project," Drazen said. "Our congressional delegation and region fully supports it but in order to give ODOT the best chance of success at securing those dollars and bringing them home, we urge you to demonstrate Oregon's commitment, the state's commitment to this project by providing additional funding in this legislative session."

HB 3209 doesn't provide specifics on how to fund the project.

"(The bill is) asking the Transportation Committee to look at possible options," Prusak told the Tidings. "We aren't telling them where to get it."

The bill's sponsors proposed some ideas, namely taking some of the funds allocated for ODOT's Rose Quarter project in HB2017.

While passing HB 3209 doesn't guarantee funding for the I-205 project, it will improve that chance. However, with the legislative session ending June 30, proponents are running out of time.

"Rose Quarter isn't shovel-ready. We are shovel-ready," Prusak said. "Can we not just get some money from (the) general fund but also get some of the money that was in that project, but without taking so much money from them that they can't do their project?"

Bills not passed by the end of the session automatically die.

"We would love for something to happen this session," Prusak said. "The fact that we have the support of all the mayors, the counties, Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington, and everybody showed up for this hearing was a good sign that we were letting the committee know how important this investment is."

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