PORTLAND - U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood pledged Tuesday that the Northwest could count on big federal support for a new I-5 bridge across the Columbia River if President Barack Obama's American Jobs Act is passed by Congress.
LaHood made the promise during an interview with KGW's Tracy Barry, who was in Washington D.C. to interview the president.
"We support it, the money will be there and it really speaks to what America can do in terms of building big," Hood said.
When asked how much, secretary LaHood said, "I don't know the exact percentage because we're still waiting for the final figures and the final cost, but I guarantee you: we will be in the project big time. We believe in it. We believe we should make a big commitment to it."
The cost of the bridge is in the $3 billion range. About $145 million has been spent without a shovel being turned.
The promise was met with skepticism from David Sweet with the Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods. His group has taken a stand against the Columbia River Crossing project.
"I don't know that he can make that commitment without Congress and it seems to me that Congress is having a hard time coming up with money to fund our government as it is, much less take on huge projects like this," said Sweet.
"The answer to congestion is not more freeway," he added.
"This is a project that is going to be solving problems that people face every day. People are in the congestion," said Anne Pressentin, a spokeswoman for the Columbia River Crossing project.
Sweet worries about air pollution and congestion, and said a lot of other transportation projects should be addressed instead.
"In order for this project to move forward, the federal government will have to come up with a lot of money, but so does the state of Oregon and so does the state of Washington," Sweet said. "And we don't have that money."
Pressentin said the Columbia River Crossing team will move into the final phases of design and work on a funding package next month, with ground breaking to begin by the end of 2013.
"It is a unique project, so it's really good to hear that (LaHood) knows all about it," said Pressentin.
"We are big, big, huge supporters of the Columbia River Crossing," LaHood told KGW. "We think it is a classic example of what America has always been known for: doing big things."