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Local News

Tolling scenarios discover limitations

Tripling base fee to cross I-5 bridge would drive commuters from span

Friday, June 5 | 8:16 a.m.


A triple toll for a replacement Interstate 5 bridge might sound good to those who want raise a boatload of money.

But new projections indicate that tripling a base toll actually would net less money than doubling the toll.

That's because a triple toll, $7.80 each way during rush hour in 2017, would cause more people to ride transit, carpool or divert to the Interstate 205 Bridge. It also could deter them from making cross-river trips.

"You get to what we call the break-over point," said Doug Ficco, Washington director for the Columbia River Crossing project. "After a while, people just don't go because it becomes too expensive or they find a different mode or they change the time of day they go."

The Columbia River Crossing project sponsors council will get its first peek at six tolling scenarios when it meets at 10 a.m. today in the Oregon Department of Transportation's regional headquarters, 123 N.W. Flanders St., Portland.

The Washington Legislature has ordered state transportation officials to finish a Columbia River Crossing tolling study by January 2010 that would:

— Evaluate potential diversion from I-5 to other areas because of bridge tolls.

— Study advanced tolling technology to maintain travel speeds and ensure reliability.

— Solicit public comments on using tolls to pay for a portion of the Columbia River Crossing project, implementing variable tolling (charging different tolls according to time of day) and placing tolls on the I-205 Bridge to raise money for the state and regional transportation system.

The crossing office assumes variable tolling would be used, in part to encourage drivers to change their travel patterns and ease rush-hour congestion.

There would be no toll booths. Drivers could either purchase transponders, which affix to inside a vehicle's windshield and allow money to be electronically withdrawn from an account, or cameras would snap a photo of the vehicle's license plate and a bill would be mailed to the registered owner.

Regardless of the collection method, tolling has the potential to be a huge cost on 50,000 or more Clark County residents who commute to weekday jobs in Oregon. Even with the lowest rate of the six scenarios — $2.60 each way during rush hour in 2017 — bridge tolls would cost commuters $1,350 annually.

Projections indicate that if those tolls were implemented, 83 percent of drivers would continue to use the I-5 bridge while 6 percent would divert to the I-205 Bridge, 1 percent would switch to transit and 10 percent would change their destination and not cross the Columbia River.

A $2.60 base toll would raise an estimated $1.34 billion, once the cost of administering a tolling system is deducted, over 30 years. The money would be used to help pay construction debt on a bridge-transit-freeway project expected to cost $3.5 billion or more.

That amount presumes tolling would begin when the bridge opens in 2017. With early tolling — starting to collect money on the existing bridge in mid-2012 while a replacement crossing is built immediately downriver — the amount of money raised to pay off 30-year construction bonds increases to $1.68 billion.

Doubling the base toll, with collection beginning in 2017, would raise an estimated $2 billion. That's a 49 percent increase in money raised, from a 100 percent increase in toll rates.

Tripling the toll rate would raise slightly less, $1.94 billion over 30 years.

But if you want to raise the big money, you double that base toll and place it on both the I-5 and I-205 bridges.

That would raise a projected $6.06 billion over 30 years, more than enough to pay the entire cost of building a new I-5 bridge, extending light rail into Vancouver and reconstructing seven freeway interchanges.

Jeffrey Mize: 360-735-4542 or

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