Interstate 5 bridge could be tolled early

| 2/9/2010

A proposed replacement bridge over the Columbia River on Interstate 5 could cost $3.6 billion. Officials in the states of Washington and Oregon are trying to determine how much of that will be funded with tolls.

One of the options being considered for the Columbia River Crossing is to begin tolling the existing bridge during construction in mid-2013. That would allow the project to get a $330 million head start in tolls ahead of the proposed opening date in 2018. Tolls on an existing interstate bridge would require federal and state approval, not to mention overcoming strong opposition from highway users.

“Many commuters disapproved of tolling as a funding source, expressing that existing taxes should pay for an interstate highway or the federal government should contribute more funds,” said the authors of a tolling study released in late January by the bi-state Columbia River Crossing group. “Others understand that tolls will be needed to supplement other funding sources in order to build the project.”

The group is considering 10 possible scenarios for tolls. In most cases, tolls for five-axle tractor-trailers would be four times the amount set for passenger cars.

One set of scenarios would not limit tolls to the I-5 bridge. It calls for tolls to be placed on I-205, currently a toll-free alternative route across the river and one that truckers know well. That scenario would require federal approval and would be met with strong opposition from OOIDA and other highway groups.

The Columbia River Crossing group admits that the proposal for tolls on I-205 has already been met with “a high level of opposition” during public outreach.

The CRC group has passed along its recommendations without saying which toll scenario it prefers. The legislatures of Washington and Oregon will have to figure that out and then pursue federal authority.

– By David Tanner, staff writer