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News / Clark County News

Bi-state panel meets for first time to discuss establishing tolls on Interstate 5 Bridge

Tolling expected to cover $1.24B of new bridge’s $6B cost

By William Seekamp, Columbian staff writer
Published: February 23, 2024, 7:14pm

A key step toward establishing tolls on the Interstate 5 Bridge to pay for its replacement occurred Friday: the first meeting of a bi-state tolling subcommittee.

The subcommittee contains two members from the Oregon and Washington transportation commissions: Lee Beyer and Alicia Chapman from Oregon, and Jim Restucci and Roy Jennings from Washington. It advises the full transportation commissions, which will ultimately set the toll rates and policies in late 2025, about the time construction on the new I-5 Bridge is expected to start.

Both Oregon and Washington have authorized tolling. Under the replacement program’s current financial plan, tolling is expected to contribute $1.24 billion of an estimated $6 billion cost. However, that estimate is expected to increase, program Administrator Greg Johnson said in January.

Tolling on the current I-5 Bridge is expected to start in 2026, although tolls likely won’t be charged between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. during construction.

After that, tolls will likely be higher during rush hour than in the middle of the night. Officials are also considering reductions in tolls for low-income drivers and an exemption for all Native American tribes.

The bridge replacement program published a traffic and revenue study in November that examined different tolling scenarios.

The study examined possible toll ranges for 2026, one set from $2.15 to $3.55, and another from $1.50 to $3.15.

All scenarios studied showed that the share of traffic crossings on the I-5 Bridge will drop as drivers divert to the Interstate 205 Bridge, which will not be tolled. The I-5 Bridge handles about 46 percent of Columbia River crossings in Vancouver. That’s projected to drop to about 33 percent when tolling is introduced.

Another investment-grade traffic and revenue study from mid-2024 through the end of 2025 will help the transportation commissions pick an exact toll rate.

In public comment, Chris Smith of the Just Crossing Alliance — a coalition of 36 organizations including The Street Trust, No More Freeways and Verde PDX — asked for the investment-grade analysis to be released earlier, in part so that legislators could have it in time for the 2025 session.

Smith said that study will be “a much more accurate assessment of the amount of traffic we will see.”

In public comment, the Cowlitz Indian Tribe’s council chairman, Steve Barnett, spoke of tolls and a desire to initiate government-to-government relationships with the subcommittee.

“Our tribe will be greatly impacted by the Interstate Bridge project. I myself will be going over that bridge multiple times a month to Clark County for meetings,” Barnett said. “The tribes — not just our tribe, but all tribes — are asking to be exempt from the toll, which will have, again, a disproportionate impact on my tribe, which is scattered between Oregon and Washington.”

The next subcommittee meeting will be March 15.

Editor’s note: Roy Jennings’ name was misspelled in an earlier version of this story. 

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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.

Columbian staff writer