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Lawmakers send letter to toll advisory committee

They say tolling on Oregon freeways disproportionately affects Washington commuters

By , Columbian politics reporter
Published: June 22, 2018, 10:04pm
2 Photos
Traffic is seen heading north in Portland on Interstate 5. (The Columbian files)
Traffic is seen heading north in Portland on Interstate 5. (The Columbian files) Photo Gallery

In anticipation of Oregon’s Value Pricing Advisory Committee making its final tolling recommendation, Southwest Washington lawmakers are urging the committee to reject any plan that disproportionately harms local residents.

The committee meets for the final time Monday to finalize its proposal and send it to the Oregon Transportation Commission for review. The commission will spend the next six months considering the proposal before making a final recommendation to the Federal Highway Administration.

U.S. Rep Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, is joined by fellow Republican state lawmakers representing the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th districts in the letter to the value pricing committee. The Clark County Council also signed the letter sent on Thursday. Notably missing are Democratic lawmakers representing the 49th District, Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, and Rep. Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver, and Rep. Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver.

Wylie said she didn’t sign because she has confidence in those representing Washington at the table, including Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle. Clark County Councilor Eileen Quiring and Washington State Department of Transportation’s Southwest Regional Administrator Kris Strickler are also on the 25-member committee.

“I also have spent a considerable amount of time with my colleagues with the aim of achieving serious talks about the replacement of the I-5 bridge,” Wylie said. “I, of course, do not support new costs to our citizens that are unfair. But I remain hopeful that there will be a more comprehensive approach to the deficits in our shared transportation system.”

Stonier and Cleveland, however, said they did not receive the letter to review and sign. Cleveland said she was contacted by Herrera Beutler’s office about the letter but was never sent the draft. Stonier said it’s possible her office was contacted but she isn’t aware of any outreach at this point.

Regardless, the two representatives said, they wouldn’t have signed the letter. They both referenced the importance of working corroboratively with Oregon on a plan.

“I think it’s a little early in the process (to make judgements),” Stonier said.

The letter specifically addresses what’s known as Concept C. The concept suggests tolling on Interstate 5 and Interstate 205 and could be implemented as a second phase if the first phase goes smoothly.

The draft proposal being considered on Monday by the committee details the first phase: Concepts B, D and E.

Concept B tolls I-5 between Going Street and Multnomah Boulevard.

Concept D adds a priced lane on I-205 in each direction between Highway 99 and Stafford Road.

Concept E adds tolling at Abernathy Bridge.

The letter argues that Concept C might unfairly target Southwest Washington residents working in Oregon. Congestion pricing, for example, may be implemented during peak travel times when residents commuting between the two states are most likely to be on the road. The letter also states that revenues will not benefit Washington residents because collected tolls will be spent on improvements outside the area in which they’re charged.

Previous discussions by the advisory committee did mention spending tolling revenue on improvements where it was collected, however.

“We cannot express in strong enough terms the resentment and distrust that is building among Southwest Washington residents toward Oregon as a result of this hasty process,” the letter reads. “While we appreciate the representation provided by the three Washington representatives on the PAC, the summaries of the meetings and workshops have consistently minimized or ignored the opposition growing among Washington residents. Moving ahead in spite of this opposition will have negative consequences for our mutual interests.”

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