A bill authorizing tolling on the Interstate 5 Bridge is nearly to the governor.
The Washington House of Representatives passed the Senate’s toll bill Tuesday night, 57-40, after the Senate passed the bill at the beginning of April.
Clark County representatives voted along party lines, with the two Democrats representing most of Vancouver voting yes and the six Republicans representing the remaining parts of Clark County voting no.
Because the bill was amended in the House, it will go back to the Senate for concurrence before being sent to the governor.
Tolling on the current I-5 Bridge is expected to start in 2026, with daytime rates of between $2.05 and $3.55 per trip being studied by the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program, commonly referred to as IBRP. It is assumed that rates would increase by 2.15 percent annually to keep pace with general price inflation.
Unlike in the past, however, tolls won’t be a relative blip lasting for a few years or a decade, but could be in place for 30 to 40 years, according to IBRP Administrator Greg Johnson.
The reason: 30 to 40 years is the sweet spot time period for bond payments, according to Johnson. The decision about the duration of tolls will be made by the states, not the IBRP.
Program officials anticipate that while the current I-5 Bridge is tolled, it will be toll-free between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m., in an attempt to avoid situations where drivers would pay a toll and experience a construction delay.
Officials are looking at nighttime rates on the replacement bridge of between $1.50 and $2.15 per trip.
Tolling is expected to generate $1.2 billion of the bridge replacement program’s estimated cost of $6 billion, with state and federal funds making up the rest.
A handful of amendments were proposed, but only two were adopted, both from Rep. Stephanie McClintock, R-Vancouver.
One would direct the Washington tolling authority to require toll rates that specifically cover the I-5 Bridge without subsidizing other Oregon toll facilities. The other would require that rates on the bridge not exceed the highest toll rate allowed on any of the other toll facilities in Washington.
The highest car toll rate in the state is on the Interstate 405 Express Toll Lanes, with Good To Go! rates of between 75 cents and $10, however, other lanes are free. The highest full lane car toll rate is on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge at $4.50. If drivers don’t have a Good To Go! pass and account, a $2 fee will be added to the toll cost and mailed to them.
“I’m happy these two amendments were accepted to make this policy better by inserting some guardrails to protect Washingtonians,” McClintock said in a press release. “However, the constituents in the 18th District that I represent are not supportive of tolling, which makes me a no vote on this bill.”
Rep. Greg Cheney, R-Battle Ground, offered an amendment allowing Washington residents who work in Oregon an exemption from paying tolls on the bridge, so the 65,000 Washingtonians who work across the river aren’t double taxed.
The reason: Washington residents who work across the Columbia River pay Oregon income tax, which at the top rate is nearly 10 percent, one of the highest in the nation.
Washingtonians “shouldn’t be double taxed simply for the benefit of going to work when they are already paying Oregon income tax,” he said.
The solution, said Rep. Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver, is for there to be more jobs in Clark County — and, she said, the best way for that to happen is for the bridge to be built.
“I’ve thought long and hard over the years about how we could do something about this,” Wylie said. “We already have a whole lot of Oregon businesses moving into Clark County and providing jobs. By making sure our economic region is healthy, those jobs are going to be closer to people’s homes (so) they won’t have to be on the bridge unless they want to be on the bridge.”
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