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Funding isn't allocated, but a study to determine an accurate cost estimate will be completed anyway

PMG FILE PHOTO - The City of Wilsonville's biggest legislative priority has been to get the Oregon State Legislature to add a southbound auxilary lane on I-5 near Wilsonville.

As City of Wilsonville Public Affairs Director Mark Ottenad put it, the Oregon State Legislature "works in mysterious ways."

Wilsonville elected officials, lobbyists and state representatives had worked throughout the recently completed legislative session to convince the state's elected body to advance a plan to add a southbound auxiliary lane from the Wilsonville Road exit on ramp to the 282A exit ramp and seismically retrofit the Boone Bridge.

First, Sen. Alan Olson, R-Canby, proposed Senate Bill 2021, which would have directed the Oregon Department of Transportation to complete the project. Then, state Rep. Courtney Neron, D-Wilsonville, proposed an amendment to the bill that many agreed was a more realistic solution — stipulating that the bill would simply allocate $3.5 million for an engineering study to garner a better cost estimate for the project. The Joint Committee on Transportation held a public hearing and approved the amendment with a do-pass recommendation but the bill languished in the Joint Ways and Means committee. And when the session closed at the end of June, funding hadn't been allocated.

But the Legislature took an alternative route to move the project forward, passing a budget note in House Bill 5050 — a larger budgetary bill — that states that the Oregon Department of Transportation must complete a study and cost estimate for the project and report back to the Legislature by February, 2021.

"The Legislature's action is a major step in advancing the I-5 Boone Bridge Wilsonville Facility Plan. Given the fact that many legislators commute or drive on this portion of I-5 and many of their constituents do also, we would anticipate that the Legislature would seriously consider funding the project after the study is completed," Ottenad said. "Most bills don't get passed in the Legislature so getting something is always a win."

Ottenad, who lobbies on behalf of the City of Wilsonville at the state capitol, surmised that the elected body passed the budget note in a larger bill rather than greenlighting Senate Bill 1021 for expediency purposes.

"The chances of getting another bill through when there was such a backup of bills, you couldn't count on that. Because this budget bill (House Bill 5050) had to pass, the best way to fund something for sure was to include it on a bill that had to pass," Ottenad said.

It also may not have allocated funding because legislators wanted ODOT to use money it already has. During the public hearing in the transportation committee, State Sen. Brian Boquist, R-Dallas, noted that ODOT has over $8 million in leftover funds that it could use for the project.

"I'd like (to) appeal to you (ODOT highway division administrator Kris Strickler) and the (ODOT) director, in the kindness of your heart, to look at this because I do recall we have about $8-10 million extra coming in, in a use tax, right now," Boquist said during the hearing.

ODOT Public Information Officer Don Hamilton said the department hadn't determined how it will fund the cost estimate study and is beginning to assess how much money it will require.

"We need to identify what needs to be done. The money is going to be an important part of that but it's too soon to identify the funding source because we don't have what it will cost and what funds will be available for the work we do," Hamilton said.

Hamilton also said ODOT intends to meet the Legislature's deadline but did not know exactly when the report will be completed and presented. The Legislature will hold a short February session in 2020 before another full session in 2021.

The study is a successor to the Wilsonville I-5 Facility Plan, an analysis ODOT and the City of Wilsonville completed in 2018 that showed that a southbound auxiliary lane would significantly reduce traffic at the bottleneck near Wilsonville. Hamilton also said statistics from a recent project to add an auxiliary lane between I-205 and Highway 217 shows a decline in congestion and accidents near the added lane.

"We've seen a reduction of congestion from an average of five hours a day to one hour a day," Hamilton said.

The plan projects that the Boone Bridge project will be completed between 2028 and 2040, a timeline Wilsonville representatives hope to expedite.

Hamilton said based on a previous estimate, the auxiliary lane would cost about $80 million but that estimate was imprecise and did not include the seismic upgrades. He said after the study is completed the project could be added to the department's Statewide Transportation Improvement Program, which includes a list of projects it plans to undertake in the ensuing four years.

"This report will show us and the legislature what needs to happen next to make this happen," Hamilton said.

And Neron and Ottenad hope a more accurate cost estimate will be used to convince the Legislature and the federal government to commit funding for the project. At this point, Neron surmises that federal funding will be vital.

"This is a major project that will require federal investment," Neron said. "A component the state needs to do is to prepare the project for federal investment. The price tag on that project is greater than what the state is prepared to invest in the project at this time."

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