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Dead Bridge Project Haunts State Transportation Department


Plans for a new span on the Columbia River I-5 corridor are dead, but some spending in the long and expensive planning process is rising zombie-like to bedevil the Washington State Department of Transportation. Washington State Auditor Troy Kelly has found more than $17-million in questionable - or undocumented - expenditures in the state's bill of $188-million for a long, fruitless study of a new bridge to link Washington and Oregon.

A lead auditor for the state reported that about 30 subcontractors failed to submit proper overhead and markup justifications to the general contractor for the study, David Evans and Associates of Portland.
He pointed out that the markups might have been legitimate. But without the proper documentation, no one can be sure. Kelly said the transportation department should never have accepted that kind of arrangement.

After Washington backed out of the I-5 bridge project last year, the legislature asked the auditor's office to conduct what's called a forensic examination of the spending. Oregon officials attempted to keep the project alive, but state lawmakers refused to go along, and the huge project died when the legislature ended in March.

Most of the costs of the study were justified, according to the state auditors, but they criticized the transportation department for caving in to a demand by the general contractor that 4 percent be added to subcontractors' bills for general overhead and paperwork hassle.

The existing I-5 bridge over the Columbia is old - some components date back to the middle and the beginning of the last century. The Columbia River Crossing project estimated a new one would cost three-and-a-half billion dollars.