US transportation secretary on I-5 Bridge replacement: ‘It’s going to happen’

By Troy Brynelson (OPB)
Feb. 13, 2024 1:50 a.m.

Pete Buttigieg declined to hint at the project’s chances for more federal dollars.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg talks with instructors at Vancouver's Cascadia Technical Academy during a Feb. 12, 2024, visit. Buttigieg said during the visit he believes a replacement for Interstate 5 Bridge will be built soon.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg talks with instructors at Vancouver's Cascadia Technical Academy during a Feb. 12, 2024, visit. Buttigieg said during the visit he believes a replacement for Interstate 5 Bridge will be built soon.

Troy Brynelson / OPB

The Interstate 5 Bridge is a vital piece of infrastructure that’s positioned to compete for more federal dollars, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg said Monday.

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The former presidential candidate swung into Vancouver as part of a multiday trip in Washington state and spoke briefly with reporters. In an interview, he underlined hopes that the bridge will be replaced.

“Because the funding is in place, it’s going to happen,” Buttigieg said.

The project’s story is well-known. Past attempts to replace the Interstate 5 bridge have, infamously, failed to pass. Meanwhile, the span — which is more than a century old in some parts — is seen as a fragile bottleneck for interstate commerce.

Like other state and federal officials, Buttigieg hit those notes when asked about the bridge.

“You can see how it is showing its age and how catastrophically disruptive it would be if that bridge was unavailable even for one day,” he said. “I think you would feel the effects across the country.”

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The visit comes nearly two months after Buttigieg’s agency awarded $600 million to for a planned replacement. The move marked the first time federal officials have written a check for the project. The states of Oregon and Washington have each pledged $1 billion.

Planners are hoping there will be more federal windfalls to come. They recently applied for another $1.5 billion grant through the Federal Highway Administration, which falls under Buttigieg’s purview.

Shortly after winning the grant, they told federal officials that price estimates could rise again. The project is already expected to cost at least $6 billion. Planners blame rising construction costs.

“We’re excited that we’re creating so many jobs that it’s difficult to find workers,” Buttigieg said. “But that’s also a huge challenge.”

The transportation secretary declined to hint at the project’s chances for more federal dollars. He said the agency is facing many stacks of applications for funding available under expansive federal programs like the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

“But, yeah, this project has been big on our radar, really from day one,” he told OPB. “But, you know, just because we know a project is important doesn’t mean it always happens. These are very competitive programs, even with all the new funding.”

Buttigieg plans to tour the bridge while he’s in town. On Monday, he toured a local career and technical education school with U.S. Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, D-Skamania County.

While speaking to a group of construction-focused students, he noted it’s possible they could be part of building the new bridge.

“In order for that to succeed, so much depends on these young people — and everybody across the trades,” he said.

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