Bridge spending may yet prove useful

Project analysts say $175 million Oregon spent on dead project may be future asset

PORTLAND — Consultants say some of the $175 million spent to plan a replacement Interstate 5 bridge across the Columbia River might not have been wasted — if another bridge is planned and if it has the same alignment as the bridge plan that now has been abandoned.

The $175 million is about what it would have cost to do seismic improvements to the two spans that make up the existing span, The Oregonian reported Friday in a story about how the money was spent in the planning begun in 2004.

Although Oregon lawmakers approved its $450 million contribution, a matching contribution from Washington state foundered when Republican senators declined to consider a $10 billion transportation package.

If it had been built, the bridge would have cost a projected $3.4 billion. "We generated a lot of data that shouldn't be discarded," said Gary Peterson, a senior vice president for Shannon & Wilson Inc., which got $4.8 million for drilling large-diameter shafts more than 250 feet deep and doing tests to make recommendations for the bridge's foundation.

"It's debilitating to see all the years and dollars of hard effort ready to go to bid, and then it just gets thrown out," he said. "That's just amazing."

The Oregonian said the largest chunk of money went to David Evans and Associates Inc., the prime consultant. The Portland-based design and management firm billed more than $37 million.

Geologic studies possibly could be useful for a future project. "We have a very good understanding of the subsurface conditions of the Columbia River on that alignment that may end up being useful in the future," said Jay Lyman, a David Evans senior vice president in Vancouver. "Or if another alignment is picked, it may not be."

The accounting shows that most of the money went to consultants, many local, who did engineering, excavation, architectural, archaeological and other work. One company, Enviroissues Inc., handled communications, the project's website, social media, advisory groups and community presentations. Its bill was $7.7 million.

Among subconsultants on the project is McCaig Communications & Opinion Research Inc. — paid $418,121 through April 30. Patricia McCaig was Gov. John Kitzhaber's top adviser on the bridge.

Two ethics complaints have been filed against McCaig, who did not register as a lobbyist with the state of Oregon.


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