How Would ODOT Pay for the CRC?

The Columbia River Crossing was front page news in Salem last week (more on that later), which begs the question, if Oregon goes ahead on its own, how would the bill get paid?

The first installment is the $450M that the legislature committed last year. They’d have to repeat that commitment, as it expired when Washington did not cough up the matching amount. At the time, the legislature did not specify a source of funds to repay the bonds. ODOT had suggested they could cover the first couple of years from existing revenues. That seems somewhat dubious now, as ODOT appears to be effectively broke (i.e., all its revenues are committed), as this post from Sightline demonstrates.

The next slug of revenue would be from tolls. But Joe Cortright, while dissecting the project on Blue Oregon, points out that CDM Smith, the consulting firm that did the investment-grade analysis, has a habit of overestimating toll receipts. And of course, it’s still very much an open question whether Washington will assist us with toll enforcement.

A big inducement for approving the project has always been the prospect of $850M from the feds for the transit component. But this week brings the news that the Congressional Budget Office estimates $100B of general fund dollars or new revenue would be needed to fund the aspirations of the pending Transportation Bill. Can Patty Murray hang onto to about 1% of that for the CRC?

It seems timely that all this is coming to a head just as the next season of “House of Cards” is being released.

And one final thought. Given the diversion of 50,000 cars a day to the I-205 bridge that the tolls are estimated to cause, is it possible that ODOT’s REAL strategy is to eventually toll that bridge too? Is it possible that they simply don’t want to raise that now, judging that while the diversion might be a calamity, proposing tolls on I-205 would make it even harder to get the project adopted at this moment?

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