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Oct. 30, 2020

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Herrera Beutler weighs in on Oregon tolling plan

Congresswoman says she'd fight tolls if they unfairly target Southwest Washington commuters

By , Columbian staff writer

U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler has weighed in on Oregon’s plan to potentially toll parts of Interstates 5 and 205 to help fund highway improvements in the state.

In a letter to Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and the Oregon Department of Transportation, Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, made clear her opposition to any tolling plan that “would unfairly target Washington commuters on Interstate Highways 5 and 205” and said she would defend them with “every appropriate means at my disposal.”

Herrera Beutler wrote that she doesn’t oppose the concept of user fees going to construction, maintenance or upkeep. However, she argues that putting tolls at the state line, which would be largely paid by Washington commuters, then using those to improve projects south of Portland, “would be unfair in the extreme.”

“Oregon has no right to make Southwest Washington an unwilling piggy bank for Oregon’s infrastructure projects,” she wrote. 

Bryan Hockaday, press secretary for Gov. Kate Brown, wrote in an email that the governor’s office hasn’t received nor was aware of Herrera Beutler’s letter until the media provided it. 

In his response, Hockaday didn’t address Herrera Beutler’s comments, but rather emphasized what the transportation package would mean for the Beaver State. 

“Governor Brown looks forward to signing Oregon’s transportation package into law, which will create thousands of new jobs for Oregonians, help cut congestion, and spur economic growth in both Washington and Oregon,” he wrote. “Oregonians can be proud of the bipartisan effort to pass one of the largest investments in Oregon’s transportation system and the region’s economy.”

Oregon’s $5.3 billion transportation bill would create a transportation commission that would seek approval from the Federal Highway Administration by Dec. 31, 2018, to put tolls on I-205 and I-5 beginning at the state line and ending where the two connect near Tualatin, Ore.

The bill directs the commission to “implement value pricing to reduce traffic congestion.” The legislature also dictated toll revenue to go into a congestion-relief fund.

Value pricing can mean a number of things, including constructing new high-occupancy tolling lanes, setting variable pricing on bridges or converting existing lanes into toll lanes, to name just a few.

The commission would also work with Washington officials to establish and operate tolls at the state line. But what type of tolling system would be used, what the tolls would cost or where the tolls begin and end isn’t yet clear.

“At this point, we have not made any decisions about specifically where we would toll, or what type of tolls we would use to manage congestion,” said ODOT Assistant Director Travis Brouwer. 

Brouwer also said his agency “appreciates Rep. Herrera Beutler’s input” and that they anticipate the commission will create a policy advisory committee composed of stakeholders from both Washington and Oregon. But any tolling would likely be years away.