County seeks CRC tolling panel

Letter requests advisory committee to help set rates

By Andrea Damewood, Columbian staff writer

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Boldt's letter to Washington State Transportation Commission

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Noting "significant adverse impacts" that Columbia River Crossing tolls would have on residents, Clark County Board of Commissioners Chairman Marc Boldt wrote state officials this week, requesting they create a local tolling advisory committee to help set rates.

In the letter, written Monday on behalf of all three county commissioners, Boldt appears to fire a warning shot — saying that some toll "exemptions may be necessary to create parity" for the estimated 60,000 Clark County commuters who work in Oregon.

Boldt said in an interview Tuesday that he and the board also are against tolling the project before construction is finished.

photoMarc Boldt, chairman of Clark County commissioners

The letter was sent to the chairman of the Washington State Transportation Commission, a governor-appointed board that sets the tolling rates for all projects statewide. A toll must first be approved by the Legislature; the Legislature approved tolling for the CRC this year.

"The county would like to work with the commission to create a tolling system that offers some relief to our citizens and commuters," Boldt wrote, noting that those who work in Oregon are also forced to pay that state's income tax.

Tolls are expected to cover about one-third of the CRC's projected $3.5 billion cost; pre-completion tolling is a possibility, but it wouldn't start until 2015 at the earliest, CRC spokeswoman Mandy Putney said.

"We've been opposed to pre-tolling all along," Boldt said.

However, the chairman said he isn't against tolling the project (he was around when they tolled the Interstate 5 Bridge decades ago), but rather making sure they strike the right balance with the cost.

"We do acknowledge if we want a bridge, there's going to be tolling," Boldt said. "What concerns us is if we make tolling too high it will do two things: First, it will hurt the citizens of Clark County more than it should, and it gives the federal government leeway to fund (the CRC) less."

Local governments, he added, need to keep as "much pressure as possible" on the federal government to do its part.

Reema Griffith, executive director of the state transportation commission, said in a voice mail that her agency had just received Boldt's letter, so she would not be able to comment on it. She did note that a similar group advised on the tolling rates for the Tacoma Narrows bridge.

The state transportation commission is holding a two-day meeting in Olympia that began Tuesday, and representatives from the CRC gave a presentation updating the commission on the project, Putney said. However, the commission did not make any decisions about the planned Interstate 5 replacement bridge, which also includes light rail to Vancouver and five miles of freeway improvements.

The CRC has a request for proposals from companies to conduct an investment grade tolling analysis — a detailed look at the project's financial feasibility that investors want to see before purchasing bonds.

Andrea Damewood: 360-735-4542; http://www.twitter.com/col_cityhall;andrea.damewood@columbian.com.