Treasurer: Consultants’ analysis of proposed CRC appears sound, but more certainty needed on toll enforcement
— In letter to legislative leaders, Treasurer says bond buyers will need assurance tolls will be collected
As requested by Oregon state legislators, Treasurer Ted Wheeler has offered his review of the new investment grade analysis released by the Department of Transportation for the proposed Columbia River Crossing project on Interstate 5 between Portland and Vancouver, Wash.
The Treasurer was asked to help evaluate the work because more than $1.5 billion in state bonds may be sold to help finance the envisioned bridge.
Treasury staff has been in regular communication with the consultants about the parameters for successful public debt offerings, and pushed the authors to ensure assumptions were conservative about likely traffic numbers, toll evasion to demographic trends. Even with more conservative projections, it appears there will be sufficient traffic to cover the bond servicing costs, Wheeler said.
The Treasurer’s conclusion: “If the assumptions underlying the projections made by the project consultants are valid, the tolls will be sufficient to service the project bonds. That said, we need to be sure Oregon can collect them.”
A key concern is ensuring a legally enforceable way to ensure tolls are collected from drivers registered in Washington State, who will make up an estimated two-thirds of the bridge users. The current plan calls for Oregon to lead the bridge financing and construction effort.
“While the project is badly needed — it must also make sense from a financial perspective. It is Treasury’s job to ensure that if the State decides to move forward with any plan, Oregon’s financial interests remain protected,” the Treasurer wrote.
A copy of the letter can be found here