Proposal Released to Borrow $1 Billion for the I-5 Bridge Replacement Project

March 27, 2023
Lawmakers in Oregon are considering issuing bonds backed by the state’s general fund and the highway user taxes

Looking to replace the I-5 Bridge in Oregon, lawmakers in the Beaver State are proposing to borrow $1 billion in funding, matching Washington State's pledge from last year.

In the proposal, lawmakers suggested issuing bonds backed against Oregon’s general fund and the highway user tax program used by the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT).

On Wednesday, a policy draft was sent out to members of Oregon's Joint Transportation Committee, but according to lawmakers, not all the details were finalized.

The borrowing plan is a “very simple package," according to Representative Susan McLain. The general fund bond would amount to about $300 million, and the ODOT dollars would amount to $700 million.

This proposal came as the I-5 Bridge Replacement Project reaches milestones. Planners overseeing the project have said they need both states to put money on the table in order to compete for high-dollar federal grants.

“We’re making sure the federal government knows the state of Washington and the state of Oregon are working diligently to replace a very important West Coast bridge,” McLain said Thursday.

According to McLain, an official funding proposal won't be released until April. According to the draft sent out Wednesday, the project “may not exceed $6.3 billion” in cost. Recently, the project has risen in cost, and planners attribute this to inflation, supply chain issues, and the labor shortage.

Greg Johnson, who is leading the team overseeing the I-5 Project, estimated in December that the project would cost between $5 billion and $7.5 billion.

When asked about a possible spending cap, McLain said only that it was “a conversation that is on the table.”

The proposal that would pump $700 million from a well of funding normally used by ODOT gave Oregon Transportation Commissioner Lee Beyer some concern. His concern was that ODOT would face cashflow problems in the future as more and more electric vehicles cut down revenue from the state’s gas tax.

McLain noted that Oregon legislators are looking at other ways to refill money for transportation projects. She floated the prospects of fees from electric vehicles or a so-called “vehicle miles traveled” approach that charges vehicles based on miles driven on public roads.

McLain added that, under their proposal, bonds won’t be issued until 2025.