SALEM -- A joint legislative committee Monday sent a bill to the full Oregon House and Senate that approves $450 million in bonds to help pay for the state's share of a new bridge across Interstate 5.
The group voted 14-2 in favor of the bill following a public hearing. The bill offers no specific plan for paying down the debt over the coming decades, roughly $30 million a year.
The cost of the new bridge, that includes interchanges on both sides of the Columbia River, a light rail line and pedestrian and bike lanes, has been estimated at just over $3 billion.
In the short term, the state can use unanticipated federal transportation dollars to cover the debt. But after that money runs out in two to three years, the state would have to approve a new revenue source, such as a gas tax or vehicle fees. Otherwise, the state would have less money available for other transportation projects.
Supporters include business groups wanting to speed up the flow of goods, and labor groups eager for thousands of construction jobs. Opponents include a variety of activists who believe transportation money can better be spent elsewhere or not at all.
Should the bill win approval by the House and Senate, Gov. John Kitzhaber said he would sign it.
"Appears to be a wise decision as far as I'm concerned," said committee member Sen. Rod Monroe, D-Portland.
Co-chair Tobias Read, D-Beaverton, points out this has been more than a decade in the making.
"We have a unique opportunity here to replace a critical piece of infrastructure in a way that's going to put people to work and benefit the economy over the long and short term," Read added.
"What happens if we go over budget? And how do we make sure Washington pays its half?" Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, asked during Monday's work session.
"Sucking up as much money as this project does, I think it puts rural Oregon in jeopardy," said Senator Fred Girod, R-Stayton, right before voting no.