Thursday, February 16, 2012

For Ore./Wash. LRT, feds offer big money

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Federal New Starts money would pay a substantial percentage of any light rail transit development on the proposed I-5 bridge linking Portland, Ore., and Vancouver, Wash., if the U.S. Department of Transportation has its way.

DOT is offering the money to smooth the way for the bridge's construction, including LRT, over the objections of anti-rail partisans, mostly within Washington state, who seek a new highway-only span. The cost of including LRT on the Columbia River Crossing is estimated at $940 million., or about 27% of the overall $3.5 billion cost of the bridge including road and rail modes.

The bridge had been ranked medium-low for local financing because both Washington and Oregon haven not completed any plan for toll operations on the bridge. Both states hope to start construction at the end of 2013.

Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff has endorsed DOT's move, saying both states are paying the lion's share of the road portion of the plan, allowing DOT to fund the LRT portion more thoroughly.

Oregon and the city of Portland have resisted calls by Washington state interests for a road-only bridge, leading to slow progress at best over the years. If built as planned, the LRT line, to be operated by TriMet, would become the second bistate LRT operation in the U.S., mirroring Metrolink LRT service linking St. Louis, Mo., and nearby Illinois suburbs.