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Jan. 28, 2022

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RTC to weigh in on tolling in letter to Oregon officials

Agency follows lead of Vancouver City Council in expressing its thoughts on tolls, projects

By , Columbian politics reporter

Members of the Southwest Washington Regional Transportation Council agreed Tuesday to join the Vancouver City Council in sending a letter to the Oregon Transportation Commission expressing its thoughts on tolling and project development.

The RTC’s vote, however, elicited some debate. Some members urged the RTC to take a stronger stance instead of simply requesting future involvement in value-pricing discussions.

Clark County Councilor Eileen Quiring ultimately voted in favor of the letter but argued that Oregon doesn’t plan to include Washington in its proposal.

“I don’t think they care,” Quiring said. “It saddens me to say that, but I honestly don’t think they care.”

She was joined by Clark County Councilor Jeanne Stewart in remarking that the RTC board should have been more involved in the process before now.

“I don’t feel like we’re dealing on an equal par. I feel like we’re reacting to someone else’s proposal,” Stewart said. “I think the RTC needs a stronger approach than that — than to just be complacent and say tolling is inevitable. That’s not how partnerships are formed.”

The Portland Metro Area Value Pricing Advisory Committee will meet for the last time June 25 to make a recommendation to the Oregon Transportation Commission on tolling as directed by the Oregon Legislature.

The RTC’s letter contains five areas of input: partnership and consultation, regionally significant project implementation, regional mitigation, regional systems monitoring and decision making.

Overall, the board wants to be part of the ongoing conversation and believes that any value pricing should support bistate projects — including replacement of the Interstate 5 Bridge — and mitigation needs to be proportional to impact. The letter offers this example: “expanding bistate express bus transit services provided by C-Tran, thereby providing an alternative and improved regional transit for affected Clark County stakeholders.”

RTC Executive Director Matt Ransom said the letter provides parameters for the board to give feedback as the project moves forward.

“There’s a lot of work ahead, and we’re committed as an organization to stay on top of this,” Ransom said.

Ransom said the letter makes a formal request to be involved in the process moving forward, regardless of how the process turns out. Much remains unknown, he said.

“The reality is, the study has produced a concept, but that’s all that it is,” Ransom said. “It’s not a proposal.”

Chair Ron Onslow, a Ridgefield city councilor, conceded that he would like stronger wording in the letter, “but I’m not sure pounding the table is going to solve anything,” he added. The board should instead focus on how and where it can influence Oregon’s decisions.

“As Oregon decides or narrows our focus, then at least you can react to that focus,” Onslow said.

Columbian politics reporter