Six days before the first Portland Region Value Pricing Policy Advisory Committee meeting Monday, Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, sent a letter to the Oregon Department of Transportation requesting additional information in advance of the discussion.
The 24-member committee will consider Oregon’s plan for tolling on interstates 5 and 205, as outlined in the state’s $5.3 billion transportation funding package.
Although no plans are yet set — and any implementation is likely years away — the issue has sparked ongoing concern among Clark County commuters that they would be unfairly charged to cross the bridges between the two states.
Since Oregon’s budget was announced, Herrera Beutler has been adamantly outspoken against tolling and any plans to do so. She also successfully sponsored an amendment in a federal spending bill to prevent Oregon from spending federal funding to implement tolls on interstates in 2018. The House and Senate are now expected to work on a compromise to the spending bill, which may or may not include the amendment.
“Now, it’s up to Senators Murray and Cantwell to decide whether it’s worth their effort to fight for Washington commuters when their negotiators come to the table,” Herrera Beutler said.
She asked ODOT to clarify its authority and explain how the public will be involved. ODOT Director Matthew Garrett responded to Herrera Beutler on Friday with a letter of his own, also signed by Oregon Transportation Commission Chair Tammy Baney.
“The intent of the PAC is to ensure that a diversity of views can be heard, including minority and dissenting opinions, rather than to provide for strict proportionality in voting across all demographic groups,” the letter reads.
Local voices added
Garrett notes that the legislation does not require Oregon to implement tolls at the Oregon-Washington border, nor does it require tolls to span the entirety of the interstate corridor.
“It only requires that the Commission seek approval for value pricing within these corridors,” he writes.
The committee originally had one voice from Southwest Washington at the table, Kris Strickler, Washington State Department of Transportation’s Southwest regional administrator. Strickler was later given voting privileges and two more local voices were added: Vancouver Mayor-elect Anne McEnerny-Ogle and Clark County Councilor Eileen Quiring.
Herrera Beutler has said she believes the plan unfairly targets Southwest Washington commuters.
“While you have expressed concerns that Oregon will target Southwest Washington commuters to pay for infrastructure they don’t use, that is neither the intent of the legislation nor the intent of the Oregon Transportation Commission,” the letter reads. “Instead, we plan to implement value pricing in a way that ensures anyone who uses the infrastructure and pays a toll gets a better, more reliable, less congested trip. We hope to demonstrate that value pricing can benefit the public and play a meaningful role in a comprehensive congestion relief strategy that also includes freeway improvement projects and more transportation options.”
Herrera Beutler said the committee just confirmed it has no authority over the decision-making process.
“So, even if this advisory committee decides that tolling both bridges is too harmful to Washington residents, Oregon has zero obligation to listen,” she said. “I would like to be able to trust them when they say Southwest Washington residents won’t be targeted to pay for infrastructure they don’t use, but the bill the Oregon Legislature passed last year doesn’t give me cause to do that.”
ODOT is asking her to trust them.
“We hope that you will allow this very open and public process to proceed over the next eight months and not pre-judge the outcome so we can determine whether value pricing can offer relief to those who suffer from the gridlock that increasingly grips the Portland-Vancouver metro region,” the letter concludes. “We hope to see your staff at the upcoming PAC meeting on the 20th and would be happy to answer any further questions.”