With a budget debate looming, Gov. John Kitzhaber met with Metro officials Friday to talk about Oregon's share of funding for the Columbia River Crossing.
Kitzhaber has earmarked $450 million in his proposed budget for the project, less than the $590 million that is Oregon's share of the project's costs. The discussion with Metro Council President Tom Hughes and Councilor Rex Burkholder centered around ways to trim that $140 million from the project, if the Legislature doesn't fund the whole amount.
"We were told it ($450 million) was a placeholder more than anything else," Hughes said. "The local preferred option is what we're supporting and we will go to the Legislature along with the partners and advocate for the full project."
Burkholder said the Metro Council, the governor and the business community all agree it's their top transportation project. That could lead the Legislature to fund the whole amount.
"As the governor said, the difference between $450 (million) and $590 (million) – it's between $35 (million) and $38 million a year in debt service," Burkholder said. "The political lifting is the same."
Burkholder said Kitzhaber asked for Metro's input on how the project could be scaled down if it's not fully funded.
The Metro delegation told the governor that community members want to make sure that parts of the project essential to area residents aren't dropped from the project, Burkholder said.
Hughes emphasized that Metro doesn't necessarily want to scale back the project. But he said some changes in phasing and footprint of the project, including changing some of the interim solutions for access to Hayden Island, could achieve the $140 million in cost savings.
But if the project could be done for less money, without interim solutions and with a smaller footprint, why isn't that Plan A to begin with?
"I think because the total purpose of the project may not be completely met by the other alternative," Hughes said. "To get what you need out of the project requires the full project. The stuff we supported it for requires the full project. But if it's not going to be possible, what are the alternatives?"
Hughes said he's optimistic the Legislature will fund the project, and that both he and Kitzhaber were frustrated by the duration of the planning process.
"I hate the amount of time it's taking us to do it," Hughes said.
A spokesman for the governor's office had no comment on the meeting.
(Aug. 9, 2011)
(Feb. 14, 2011)