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News / Politics / Clark County Politics

Legislature weighs bills to allow tolls on new I-5 Bridge

They’re expected to account for up to $1.6B of span’s cost

By William Seekamp, Columbian staff writer
Published: March 29, 2023, 6:22pm

Tolling is the talk of the town, at least in Olympia.

Bills have been introduced in both the Senate and House transportation committees to allow tolling on the Interstate 5 Bridge.

Tolling is expected to account for between $1.1 billion and $1.6 billion of the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program’s estimated cost of $5 billion to $7.5 billion, with federal and state funds making up the rest. Tolling is expected to begin before the construction of a replacement bridge is complete. The exact date will be determined by a two-state agreement.

Although toll rates on the bridge would be jointly set by the Washington State Transportation Commission and Oregon State Transportation Commission, program officials are confident that a toll of between $1.50 and $3.55, depending on the time of day, can generate $1.2 billion.

Variable-rate tolling is expected to be used, meaning tolls will be higher during rush hour than in the middle of the night. Program officials and the commissions have also discussed a discounted toll rate for low-income individuals.

The Oregon Legislature is working to match Washington’s $1 billion for the bridge replacement. Its draft plan includes $300 million bonded against its general fund and another $700 million bonded against highway-user revenue.

In addition to a tolling agreement, financial commitments from both states are essential for the program to receive up to $2.7 billion in federal funds, said Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, who serves on the Senate Transportation Committee.

The first public hearing is scheduled in the Senate committee at 12:30 p.m. today. The bill will need to make it out of committee by April 4, the fiscal cutoff date, when the Senate will then vote on it.

The legislation also repeals and replaces the former toll authority agreement between Oregon and Washington from the Columbia River Crossing.

“You put your shoulder to the wheel and you push and push in hopes that one day that will start to gain momentum and that it will actually turn on its own,” said Cleveland. “I feel as if we’re at that critical point where that wheel is starting to gain momentum.”

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This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.

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