The West Coast’s 4th-Worst Freight Bottleneck Is Primed For a Federally-Funded Fix, Says Cantwell

Will help speed the $97 billion in trucked goods Washington state sends to or gets from Oregon and California every year

VANCOUVER, WA —Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Chair of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, stood next to the 105-year-old Interstate Bridge and explained how the Megaproject Grant Program passed under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law can finally spur its replacement.

“As we were considering the infrastructure bill getting through our committee, we wrote this language for megaprojects with the I-5 bridge in mind,” said Cantwell. “We thought there were projects that were so costly, but had regional significance to the nation, that they deserved a category of funding all their own. So the race is on now to meet that criteria and qualify this project for those federal dollars.”

The bridge, which spans the Columbia River between Washington and Oregon, is a bottleneck along the west coast’s vital I-5 freight corridor linking Washington with Oregon and California. Traffic congestion and bridge raises cause slowdowns at the aging span. According to a February 2022 report by the American Transportation Research Institute, the bridge is the 4th-worst freight bottleneck on the West Coast, and 33rd-worst in the nation.

Senator Cantwell authored the Megaprojects Grant Program to support highway, bridge, transit, passenger rail, or freight transportation projects that are critical to our economy, but are too large or complex for existing funding programs. A total of $5 billion will be available nationwide. 

The Department of Transportation released funding criteria for the Megaproject Grant Program less than a month ago, in March. In her remarks, Senator Cantwell noted that the Interstate Bridge Replacement project meets virtually every requirement graded for competitiveness. The requirements that the project meets include:

  • The project exists on the National Multimodal Freight Network, National Highway Freight Network, and National Highway System;
  • The project includes a freight intermodal component as the bridge infrastructure and interchange improvements will increase freight mobility efficiency to the Port of Vancouver;
  • The project has a solid non-federal commitment of $1 billion from Washington state;
  • The project also will improve multimodal access to public transportation. 

The Interstate Bridge Replacement was also listed in a 2017 U.S. Department of the Treasury report that named 40 U.S. infrastructure projects of major national significance.

The Senator also noted that the $12.5 billion Bridge Investment Program may also be a source for federal investment. The competitive grant program will fund bridge replacement projects on the National Bridge Inventory, which the I-5 Bridge is listed on. Funding criteria for this program will be released in May.

According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, a total of $97 billion in goods will travel by truck either from Washington to Oregon or California, or from Oregon or California to Washington in 2022.

“Shipping costs can be one of the most expensive parts of doing business, and a reliable efficient transportation network will help companies be more competitive,” said Julianna Marler, CEO of the Port of Vancouver, at the event. “This includes goods that we move at the Port of Vancouver today like wind blades to eastern Oregon, Washington, and Canada. We also move Subarus throughout the Northwest and as far east as Ohio.”

West Coast Trucked Freight Value 2022 Projections (Bureau of Transportation Statistics)

Direction of Trucked Freight

Value of Trucked Freight

Washington to California

$14.2 billion

Washington to Oregon

$24.0 billion

Oregon to Washington

$33.7 billion

California to Washington

$25.0 billion

Total Value

$96.9 billion

California to Washington Trucked Freight Trade

  • The top commodities by ton shipped were agricultural and food projects, alcoholic beverages, Nonmetallic Mineral Products, and mixed freight
  • The top commodities by value were electronics, mixed freight, transportation equipment, foodstuffs, and textiles/leather.

Oregon to Washington Trucked Freight Trade

  • The top commodities by ton shipped were Agricultural and food projects, wood products, animal feed, and mixed freight
  • The top commodities by value were mixed freight, electronic, motor vehicles, foodstuffs, and machinery

The bridge’s replacement will improve international trade as well. In 2021, nearly $2 billion worth of goods were trucked from California to Canada via the I-5 corridor. Oregon exporters sent more than $750 million worth of goods to Canada via the I-5 corridor.

A link to the U.S. Department of the Treasury report: 40 U.S. Water and Transportation Projects of Major National Significance is HERE.