Wednesday, March 29, 2023
March 29, 2023

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Herrera Beutler seeks Inslee’s help to block Oregon tolling plan

Federal lawmaker says her options are limited; Oregon’s congressional delegation united in blocking any legislation

By , Columbian staff reporter

U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, wants Gov. Jay Inslee to oppose tolling Interstate 5 and Interstate 205 in Oregon.

Herrera Beutler sent a letter to Inslee Wednesday asking for “renewed engagement” on tolling the two freeways, which is a different process from replacing the Interstate 5 Bridge.

Inslee, a Democrat who last month ended his short-lived presidential campaign, has announced he will run for a third term as governor in 2020.

“Now that you’ve declared your intention to serve as governor for four more years, we need your involvement before Oregon moves forward with a plan that treats Southwest Washington commuters as a revenue source without providing them with any benefit,” she wrote.

Inslee, during a July 2018 visit to Vancouver, said he has instructed the Washington State Department of Transportation to ensure the views and interests of Southwest Washington residents are heard in the tolling debate.

Herrera Beutler referenced that visit in Wednesday’s letter.

“It was with sincere gratitude that I welcomed your commitment to fighting this tolling plan when you visited Vancouver in July of 2018,” she wrote. “As I said at the time, standing up for the economic well-being of our constituents is not a Democrat or Republican issue. It’s what we’re supposed to do as elected officials.

“Those who would be most affected by Oregon’s tolling plan are teachers, service-industry workers and other working class folks. These are the individuals who can least afford the additional cost and do not have the choice to commute to work during non-peak hours.”

Oregon sometimes refers to tolling as “congestion pricing” because charging variable tolls can discourage driving during peak hours.

Oregon has proposed tolling I-5 between North Going Street and Southwest Multnomah Boulevard and I-205 at or near the Abernethy Bridge over the Willamette River in West Linn. State officials have discussed using tolling revenue to widen the Abernethy Bridge and to reduce I-5 congestion near the Rose Quarter.

In January, the Federal Highway Administration gave Oregon guidance on how to move ahead with tolling the two freeways.

Herrera Beutler, who has been steadfast in opposing what she calls “an unfair scheme,” said federal law makes it difficult, if not impossible, to block Oregon’s tolling plan.

“Additionally, the Oregon congressional delegation has been a united force in actively opposing my attempts in Congress to protect Southwest Washington residents’ interests,” she wrote in her letter to Inslee. “I will continue to explore every option to make sure Southwest Washington residents aren’t exploited by their neighbors, but we need help at the state level.”

Jaime Smith, Inslee’s executive director of communications, repeated many of her boss’s comments from July 2018.

“As he has said before, the governor is committed to making sure the voices of Southwest Washington are heard,” Smith wrote in an email. “His Washington State Department of Transportation is an active participant in this process.

“Our state has a seat at the table and will be involved in any tolling discussion that impacts Washingtonians. We will insist on significant engagement from communities on both sides of the bridge.”

Columbian staff reporter