I-5 Bridge toll bill clears state Legislature

65-33 House vote gives state officials authority to enact charge to help pay for new, $3 billion crossing

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter



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How local legislators voted:

Voting YES:

• Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver.

• Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver.

Voting NO:

• Paul Harris, R-Vancouver.

• Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama.

• Tim Probst, D-Vancouver.

• Ann Rivers, R-La Center.

Tolling on the Interstate 5 Bridge moved a step closer to reality Wednesday night after the state House of Representatives voiced its approval by a nearly two-thirds margin. The bill now goes to the governor.

The 65-33 vote gives state transportation officials the authority to enact tolls on the span connecting Vancouver and Portland as a way to help pay for its replacement: the more than $3 billion Columbia River Crossing. The sprawling and controversial project would also bring light rail into downtown Vancouver and rebuild the freeway on both sides of the Columbia River.

More Clark County lawmakers came down against the tolling bill than in favor of it. Democratic Rep. Tim Probst of Vancouver joined Republican Reps. Paul Harris of Vancouver, Ed Orcutt of Kalama, and Ann Rivers of La Center in voting against Senate Bill 6445. Reps. Jim Moeller and Sharon Wylie, both Democrats from Vancouver, cast “yes” votes.

Members of Clark County’s legislative delegation couldn’t be reached for comment late Wednesday.

The state Senate OK’d tolling authority last month by a 33-15 vote. Sen. Craig Pridemore, D-Vancouver, sponsored that bill. Sens. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, and Joseph Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, voted against it.

With the House’s approval, the bill now goes to Gov. Chris Gregoire.

State transportation leaders have said tolling is essential to the project’s financing, and a key part of netting federal funding. But tolls have also been a major point of contention for local CRC opponents.

The bill that’s now cleared the Legislature doesn’t set toll rates. That job falls to the Washington State Transportation Commission, which visited Vancouver last fall for an update on the CRC. Public forums in Southwest Washington would likely focus on other details, such as when tolls would begin and whether they’d change at different times of day. Oregon transportation officials already hold the authority to establish tolls.

CRC planners have banked on toll revenue to cover much of the project’s cost, with the rest coming from Washington, Oregon and the federal government. The project is slated to begin construction in 2013, though CRC officials have recently indicated that 2014 may be a more likely start date.

The CRC has spent more than $140 million in planning and design so far.

Eric Florip: 360-735-4541; http://twitter.com/col_enviro; eric.florip@columbian.com.