Cantwell Announces Long-Sought Win for WA: I-5 Bridge Replacement Project Wins $600M Grant

December 18, 2023

Sen. Cantwell: I-5 Bridge funding ID’d as top priority when she drafted federal ‘Mega’ grant program in 2021 – MORE HERE

On Friday, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, announced that the Interstate Bridge Replacement (IBR) Program – the organization tasked with replacing the I-5 Bridge connecting Portland, Ore., and Southwest Washington – will receive $600 million in federal funds from a Department of Transportation (DOT) grant program authored by Sen. Cantwell.

Sen. Cantwell’s statement following the announcement:  

“Today marks a mega win for the State of Washington: Finally, the 100-year-old I-5 Bridge is getting a federal down payment. I was proud to author the Mega Grant Program to help us tackle transportation projects that drive the economies of entire regions, but are too large and complex for one community or state to fund alone. This is the second year of the program, and it's no coincidence that past recipients -- the New York-New Jersey Gateway tunnel, the Ohio-Kentucky Brent Spence bridge, and now the Oregon-Washington I-5 bridge -- are also economy-driving corridors. Cross-state corridors are winning the day under my Mega grant program because these investments actually help us improve the flow of commerce to grow our regional and national economies. Older bridges were never designed to carry this volume of people and freight, and the consequence is that they become a pinch point for the economy and a headache for daily commuters, stymying economic growth. 

The I-5 Bridge serves as a vital commerce link for the entire West Coast. Every day, more than 131,000 vehicles and $132 million worth of freight -- the equivalent of nearly 20 percent of the goods grown and produced in Washington and Oregon -- move over this bridge. The region is already a semiconductor manufacturing powerhouse, and these types of infrastructure improvements help attract more high-wage jobs. By upgrading and adding lane capacity, we are enabling more regional economic growth and better day-to-day travel experiences for commuters. Freight will move faster too, boosting international trade and helping speed the delivery of semiconductors manufactured in Southwest Washington to customers around the world.  The dynamic growth in Vancouver’s impressive waterfront development will also have a jewel in the new I-5 Bridge – this project makes Vancouver an even bigger commerce center for the State of Washington, and a great place to live.”

The funding comes from the National Infrastructure Project Assistance program, or Mega program. Sen. Cantwell authored the Mega program in order to dedicate federal funds for projects that are critical for the U.S. economy, but too large or complex for existing funding programs. The program was enacted in the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) and appropriated $5 billion to award over five years. Additionally, Sens. Cantwell, Murray, and Rep. Gluesenkamp Perez co-led a bipartisan Washington delegation letter in August in support of the states’ Mega grant application.

The I-5 Bridge project received the highest amount of funding out of 11 awards nationwide. This year, the DOT sought applications for $1.8 billion in Mega program funding from Fiscal Years 2023 and 2024 advance appropriations. Today’s grant marks the second federal grant awarded to the current bridge replacement project; the first, a $1 million seismic study grant, was awarded in October 2022.

The I-5 Bridge is a crucial linchpin in both the regional and national economy and plays a vital role in transporting freight along the I-5 corridor. IBR reports that $132 million worth of freight crossed the I-5 Bridge daily in 2020. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, an estimated total of $97 billion in goods traveled by truck either from Washington to Oregon or California, or from Oregon or California to Washington in 2022. The route is also vital to international exporters; in 2021, nearly $2 billion worth of goods from California and $750 million worth of goods from Oregon were trucked to Canada via the I-5 corridor. According to the Southwest Washington Regional Transportation Council an average of 131,747 vehicles crossed the bridge each weekday in 2021, including many of the 65,000 Clark County residents who work in Oregon.

Despite the bridge’s importance, it’s rated the worst truck bottleneck in Washington and Oregon and the fifth-worst on the West Coast, with seven to 10 hours of congestion during the morning and evening commute periods.

In addition, there are significant issues with the aging existing bridge. One span is more than a century old and the other is more than 65 years old. Neither span has had a seismic retrofit, which is a significant concern in a region susceptible to earthquake activity: the entire structure is at risk of collapse in the event of a major earthquake. Moreover, simply maintaining the existing structure is expensive. Annual maintenance costs are about $1.2 million per year and larger maintenance projects needed to simply maintain the bridge are expected to cost $280 million by 2040 – not including the cost of a seismic retrofit, which would be substantial. Today, these maintenance costs are split equally between the Washington State Department of Transportation and the Oregon Department of Transportation.

Today’s award will fund 8-12% of the estimated $5-7.5 billion total bridge replacement project cost. The bridge replacement project remains eligible for other sources of federal funding, including the DOT Bridge Investment Program and the Federal Transit Administration Capital Investment Grant Program.

A one-pager on Sen. Cantwell’s history of leadership establishing the Mega program in the BIL, as well as championing the I-5 Bridge replacement project overall, is available HERE.

In spring of 2022, Sen. Cantwell toured the I-5 Bridge along with local and regional leaders; photos of that tour are available for download HERE and video is HERE.