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News / Clark County News

Questions ahead for tolling on Interstate 5 Bridge

Oregon’s decision to drop tolls on lanes of I-5, I-205 alters planning

By William Seekamp, Columbian staff writer
Published: March 15, 2024, 8:15pm

A bistate subcommittee heavily involved in re-establishing tolls on the Interstate 5 Bridge to help fund its replacement met Friday for the first time since Oregon’s plan to toll all lanes of I-5 and Interstate 205 from the interstate bridges to near Wilsonville, Ore., was canceled.

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.

Oregon’s toll change, announced Monday by Gov. Tina Kotek, impacts the behind-the-scenes of tolling the I-5 Bridge. Officials expect tolls to contribute $1.24 billion of the bridge’s estimated $6 billion replacement cost. They had planned to use Oregon’s toll system on the I-5 Bridge.

With Kotek’s announcement, however, they now plan to use Washington’s Good to Go! tolling system.

“We are just beginning this process, and there are a lot more questions than answers,” said Edward Barry, toll division director for Washington’s transportation department. “We just found out about this several days ago, so we don’t have a ton of answers about what this means for WSDOT and the Good to Go! system.”

Replacement program officials intend to implement a low-income toll program. Barry said that with WSDOT taking over, the program will take time to develop.

The subcommittee members spent much of their Friday meeting discussing how traffic may divert from the I-5 Bridge to the I-205 Bridge when tolling begins in 2026.

The base toll scenario with rates between $2.15 and $3.55 estimated that travel across the I-5 Bridge would reduce by 32 percent, compared with the future non-tolled, no-build scenario, according to a study released in November.

The report stresses the traffic forecasts for this estimate are intentionally conservative to not overstate potential toll revenue. A scenario with slightly lower rates between $1.50 and $3.15 per trip forecasted that 26 percent of auto traffic and 44 percent of truck traffic will divert off I-5.

All scenarios studied showed the traffic over the I-5 Bridge will drop from 46 percent of all crossings of the Columbia River to about 33 percent when tolling is introduced.

The subcommittee’s next meeting will be April 19.

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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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Columbian staff writer