Bill Lucia

(Washington State Standard) The federal government will plunk down more than a half-billion dollars to help cover the cost of replacing the Interstate 5 bridge across the Columbia River, between Washington and Oregon.

A grant of $600 million will go to the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program, the entity overseeing the effort. It’s the first sizable slug of federal funding for what is one of the most significant infrastructure projects pending in the region and along the West Coast.

Three Washington Democratic lawmakers — U.S. Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, and U.S. Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, whose district is on the Washington side of the bridge — announced the grant award on Friday.

There’s still a long road ahead to getting the bridge fully funded and built.

The award will cover about 8% to 12% of the estimated $5 billion to $7.5 billion total expense of replacing the bridge. One of the bridge’s two spans is over a century old, the other about 65 years old, and the entire bridge is at risk of collapse in a major earthquake.

Work is already underway in areas like environmental evaluation, toll planning, and design. Construction is anticipated to begin in late 2025 and to last until 2032.

Nearly 132,000 vehicles, on average, traveled across the bridge each weekday in 2021, according to the Southwest Washington Regional Transportation Council.

The grant dollars are from the federal Mega Grant Program, which funnels money to complex regional projects.

Cantwell, who chairs the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, authored legislation outlining the Mega program in 2021. The grant initiative was created as part of the $1.2 trillion, five-year infrastructure law President Joe Biden signed in November that year. Murray, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, played a key role in getting the Mega program funded.

Washington and Oregon have both committed about $1 billion to the bridge replacement and anticipate tolls will generate between $1.1 billion and $1.6 billion.

Formal discussions and planning around replacing the bridge have gone on for about 20 years. But in recent months, lawmakers and others have become more optimistic that the project is headed toward construction as funding and support in both states is shored up.