As misleading euphemisms go, Oregon’s Value Pricing Committee scores big points. It could, after all, be the Get Washington Drivers to Pay For Projects That Don’t Help Them Committee.
Maybe that is overly cynical. But as Oregon officials commence meetings today to discuss tolls along Interstate 5 and Interstate 205, beginning at the state line, we reiterate our mistrust of the proposal. Washington drivers would pay an inordinate portion of the tolls and receive few of the benefits.
Last year, the Oregon Legislature approved a bill calling for a task force to develop plans for tolling the Portland area’s most prominent freeways. Any proposal, then, will require federal approval because the freeways are federally owned.
While we support the idea of tolls — user fees — to help pay for infrastructure projects, we reject the notion of such fees beginning at the south end of the interstate bridges. With an estimated 65,000 Clark County residents working in Oregon, the I-5 and I-205 bridges are heavily traveled by Washington residents — as anybody who tries to drive into Portland in the morning or to Clark County in late afternoon can attest. In addition to local residents who commute to Portland for work, many others make frequent trips to the center of the metro area.
Among the projects earmarked by the proposal would be reconstruction of the I-5 corridor near the Rose Quarter. This would, indeed, benefit drivers from Washington or anybody else who tries to navigate the slog through the heart of Portland. But other major projects would include a widening of the southern end of Interstate 205 and replacement of the Abernathy Bridge, which carries I-205 over the Willamette River in West Linn.
In other words, many Washington residents could pay a twice-daily toll for crossing an interstate bridge while paying for construction nearly 30 miles away in an area they don’t frequent.
As U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, wrote to Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, “Oregon has no right to make Southwest Washington an unwilling piggy bank for Oregon’s infrastructure projects.” Or, as The Columbian wrote editorially in June: “While we long have encouraged officials in Washington and Oregon to approach bistate transportation issues with hands extended in friendship, our neighbors to the south have misconstrued that dictum. Instead, they are considering reaching out and digging through the pockets of Southwest Washington residents.”
The unfairness of the proposal is demonstrated by what is not included, namely U.S. Highway 26 and Interstate 405. These roads, travelled primarily by Oregon residents and heavily congested, have not been mentioned as part of the tolling proposal. If Oregon officials are sincere about devising an equitable plan rather than getting Washington residents to pay an inequitable share, they will include Highway 26 and I-405 in any proposal.
Anne McEnerny-Ogle, a Vancouver city councilor and mayor-elect, has been selected for the committee that begins work today. So has Clark County Councilor Eileen Quiring. While we trust that they will effectively represent the concerns of Southwest Washington residents, they are hopelessly outnumbered on the 25-person panel.
Because of that, we urge Rep. Herrera Beutler and representatives at the state level — along with local citizens — to continue decrying a proposal that is grossly unfair to residents of Southwest Washington.