Is Oregon trying to punish Clark County residents with tolling?

Oregon law prohibits tolling funds from helping C-TRAN or low income Clark County residents

Is Oregon’s tolling program simply a money grab? Is it about creating “roads for the rich”? It’s very regressive, says Vancouver councilor Erik Paulsen.

For the past two months, the Vancouver City Council has been discussing the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program (IBRP) and tolling. Initially, the tolling discussion was about a funding source for the bridge replacement. How to pay for an expected $4 to $5 billion project.

But on Monday, the council members received a briefing from the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) on their plans for tolling I-5 and I-205. Oregon has a $510 million annual funding deficit for maintaining roads and bridges. By 2040, people will spend an average of 69 hours being stuck in traffic congestion. Portland has had the eighth worst traffic congestion in the nation.

Councilor Ty Stober began the effort to question the program and motives of the ODOT tolling program.

“When you look at the map, it very clearly looks like it is trying to punish the members of the metro community that live in Clark County,” Stober said. He mentioned the fact that I-84 and US 26 are not included in the congestion pricing service area. He pointed out that everyone knows the Sunset highway (US 26) and I-84 are major congestion bottlenecks and problems.

Oregon has a $510 million annual funding deficit for money to repair roads and bridges. People are expected to spend an average of 69 hours stuck in traffic annually by 2040. Portland has recently had the eighth worst traffic congestion in the nation. Graphic courtesy of ODOT
Oregon has a $510 million annual funding deficit for money to repair roads and bridges. People are expected to spend an average of 69 hours stuck in traffic annually by 2040. Portland has recently had the eighth worst traffic congestion in the nation. Graphic courtesy of ODOT

“It clearly communicates that this is about targeting people who live in the state of Washington and not about targeting the overall congestion problems that exist within the Portland metro area,” he said. 

Nobody responded with the fact that the early phase of the program is a “test,” and that Oregon and ODOT’s ultimate goal is to toll all of I-5 and I-205 from “the border” with Washington. Later, Oregon hopes to expand the tolling to every major highway in the region, including I-84, I-405, US 26, and OR 217.

In April 2018, ODOT’s Mandy Putney briefed the Southwest Washington Regional Transportation Council (RTC) on tolling programs. “Some of these scenarios might not raise much more than the cost to cover the operations of the tolling system,” she said.

Stober asked if people using I-405 would be tolled, to which he got a response of “no.” He sought further clarification, in that people driving south on I-5 would be tolled before getting on I-405. ODOT’s Lucinda Broussard responded that I-405 would not be tolled.

Stober pointed out a huge discrepancy in the program. Oregon says it’s about raising revenue to help reduce traffic congestion. C-TRAN is the only mass transit carrier to offer service on either I-5 or I-205, and yet Oregon law prohibits ODOT from sending any of the tolling dollars out of state. They cannot subsidize the only transit service that could help reduce traffic congestion, stated several members of the council.

Paulsen asked about the equity program. He couldn’t understand how it might translate into helping low income people. Congestion pricing “becomes something that’s viable only for those who have the means to take advantage of it,” he said. “It becomes disqualifying for those who do not have the means, so it’s very regressive in that respect.”

Broussard is ODOT’s dIrector of tolling. She shared that Oregon HB 3055 was recently passed which mentions a low income toll, but provided no details. 

She shared the input would be coming from the ODOT Equity and Mobility Advisory Committee on tolling. That committee offers input for not only low income and minority communities, but also the BIPOC and other disadvantaged communities, according to Broussard. “Equity is not a one size fits all,” she said.

Broussard mentioned the equity program instituted for the Rose Quarter project. Yet the cost of that project has recently increased to possibly $1.25 billion. The Oregon legislature originally allocated $450 million in OR HB2017 which raises the question of who will pay.

Councilor Bart Hansen believes the widening of the Abernathey Bridge on I-205 will help reduce congestion, and therefore tolling to help pay for that is understandable. Tolling to pay for a new, presumably, wider Interstate Bridge is fair if it reduces congestion, according to Hansen.

“To simply charge folks in congestion mitigation to keep them off the road, I don’t see that as basically fair,” he said. “As Councilmember Paulson pointed out, you build a condition of roads for the rich. Folks that can’t afford it, well, they’ll have to make other options.”

Oregon will initially toll two unique sections of I-5 and I-205. Tolls will happen at the Abernethy Bridge area of I-205 first. ODOT will then toll I-5 from around Going St. down to Multnomah Blvd. Later, they plan to expand tolls to all I-5 and I-205 from “at the border” with Washington down to near Wilsonville. Graphic courtesy of ODOT
Oregon will initially toll two unique sections of I-5 and I-205. Tolls will happen at the Abernethy Bridge area of I-205 first. ODOT will then toll I-5 from around Going St. down to Multnomah Blvd. Later, they plan to expand tolls to all I-5 and I-205 from “at the border” with Washington down to near Wilsonville. Graphic courtesy of ODOT

Hansen recalled the last time ODOT presented to the council, he asked what is the benefit to Clark County? “They’re going to be getting time,” was the answer. “What immediately comes to mind is time for those that can afford it,” he said.

He also piggybacked on Stober’s remarks about the unfairness of C-TRAN not being able to be reimbursed for providing the only mass transit service across the river. “If I can’t afford to utilize the I-5 or I-205, (due to tolls), my next best bet when I’m in Clark County is going to be C-TRAN.” 

Hansen lamented the fact that Clark County residents will be paying into the congestion mitigation program, but not getting the benefit of any funding to help the C-TRAN “Express” buses that are the only option for the low income people who must travel, to avoid the tolls.

During the Columbia River Crossing (CRC) debate, it was revealed that an estimated 60 percent of bridge tolls would be paid by Southwest Washington residents.

Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle addressed the equity issue of Oregon collecting tolling dollars from Washington residents, and not being able to share those dollars with C-TRAN. She said it would need a fix by the Oregon legislature. 

She asked if low income people would be allowed a refund on the tolls?

“If we’re using C-TRAN to alleviate the congestion, how can we work to get those funds to support C-TRAN,” she asked.

Broussard responded: “we just need to go back and talk about how that all works.”

Brendan Finn runs ODOT’s office of Urban Mobility. He wrapped up by praising C-TRAN. “You do a very good job on the interstate there with bus on shoulder,” he said. “That’s something we want to see implemented more so here on our side of the river.”

With people expected to lose 69 hours stuck in traffic congestion by 2040, the ODOT officials did not say how much their tolling and congestion mitigation efforts would reduce that time lost in traffic jams.

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Herm
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Herm
1 month ago

Toll it $500 each way! Both bridges. Keep Portland out of Vancouver!
All their pro-homeless and anti-police policies aren’t needed over here.

John Jr.
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John Jr.
1 month ago

I would like to see tolling be $ 1000.00 each toll. Since we cross the bridges 10-15 times a day, we would just past the cost onto the customers. When people have to pay $ 20.00 for a cup of coffee, things will change.

R-Squared
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R-Squared
1 month ago

Portland Oregon, quite understandably, isn’t interested in subsidizing or patronizing the sfx traffic from Clark County Washington, as that area has acquired a rather vicious reputation as Portland’s “bedroom community.”

Eric Albers
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Eric Albers
1 month ago
Reply to  R-Squared

Why is it a vicious to live in CC? Are they stealing from Portland? What about the income tax they pay in and only get congestion in return? Are all people that move to a suburb vicious? Is wanting more land and space vicious?

John Ley
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John Ley
1 month ago
Reply to  R-Squared

As information, many Clark County (and SW WA residents) would disagree about your “subsidizing” characterization.

In 2018, (the most recent data available), nearly 75,000 Clark County residents and a total of 120,000 Washington residents paid $365 million in Oregon income taxes. FYI.

Jack Burton
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Jack Burton
1 month ago
Reply to  John Ley

And how many big ticket items have Washington residents gone to Oregon to purchase? Drive around anywhere in Vancouver and note the Oregon plates parked in driveways, parking lots, and roads. Do you believe they are all just waiting for their WA plates to come in the mail? People that pay OR income tax choose to work in OR knowing they have an income tax. What does OR get from Washingtonians that illegally avoid paying WA taxes by going to OR to buy cars, RVs, and other big ticket items? The best part is these same people will lament their tax burden in WA while cheating the system. There are tolls all over the country and we act like they signify the end times… absolute storm in a teacup.

Ross
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Ross
1 month ago
Reply to  Jack Burton

“what does Oregon get by Washingtonians putting money into their economy” is basically what you just said. Think about that a minute. They are contributing to Oregon’s economy. It’s WA that loses out as a result. Though people do not skip out on taxes by buying cars/RV’s in Oregon. They must pay the sales tax when they register their car in WA.

Jack Burton
Guest
Jack Burton
1 month ago
Reply to  Ross

Um, many (if not most) of those local Oregon plates are never going to register in Washington. If tolls keep people on this side of the river and not defrauding Washington taxes, I’m all for them. I worked with the WA State Patrol when they ran a program to catch the tax cheats. The program paid for itself many times over in recouped tax revenue, but the Legislature in it’s infinite wisdom discontinued it. Let’s make some heads explode…. how about no tolls, but light rail service?

Ross
Guest
Ross
1 month ago
Reply to  Jack Burton

By all means bust them. I don’t see how a toll has any impact on that one way or the other. Sounds like misdirected anger. Oregon works out pretty damn well by having people who live in WA work and shop in Oregon. They contribute to the economy and tax base and receive little legal benefits in return. Preventing the toll money from supporting the one mass transit that crosses the bridge is dumb.

Roy
Guest
Roy
1 month ago
Reply to  Jack Burton

Nope. Keep 3rd world Portland over there.

Michael T
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Michael T
1 month ago
Reply to  Jack Burton

What are you taking about? You pay tax on cars and RVs if you’re a WA resident buying in OR. It goes by your physical address- not where you are purchasing your car. Call any car dealership in Portland to verify if you need.

Jack Burton
Guest
Jack Burton
1 month ago
Reply to  Michael T

You are clearly an honest, law abiding citizen. Imagine if you will a person buys a new $60,000 truck and lives in WA. They used to live in OR and still have their OR driver’s license. They provide the license, with the Oregon address (or the address of a relative or friend) and voila: a new truck without sales tax. It happens a lot more than you think.

Some guy
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Some guy
1 month ago
Reply to  Jack Burton

That’s literally not how anything works. Any major purchase that requires the submission of an address i.e. a car, a home appliance, obviously an R.V., requires the submission of i.d. to verify Oregon residence. I can’t just drive across the bridge to buy my car and suddenly not have to pay sales taxes. Maybe you should educate yourself before you put your foot in your mouth.

Alex
Guest
Alex
1 month ago
Reply to  Jack Burton

I live in Vancouver and not once do I think about going to Oregon to buy things. I’d rather buy stuff on this side of the bridge rather than deal with traffic.

Roy
Guest
Roy
1 month ago
Reply to  Jack Burton

We pay very high gas taxes instead of tolls. Now Oregon wants high tolls too, to meet there unfunded transportation projects, underfunded trimet obligations and their underfunded state pensions.

Jeanette
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Jeanette
1 month ago
Reply to  R-Squared

Why in the world is it vicious? I pay more to your state taxes than I do to the feds for the dubious pleasures of working in Portland. Screw you guys. I can afford to take a pay cut to work in Vancouver. The only reason I’m staying at my job now is because I like the people. But I don’t like them well enough to pay tolls for them

RCxyz
Guest
RCxyz
1 month ago

One thing is certain, once tolling starts, we will not be shopping at Janzen Beach, Portland, or those Airport area businesses ever again. Even if he tolling place is south of Janzen Beach, we will still not cross the bridge.

jessica mcallister
Guest
jessica mcallister
1 month ago

,”equity is not a one size fits all” Are you new? That is Exactly what it is, everyone the same, no more ,no less. No one gets to have a car, no one gets to have anything. Except the job you are assigned. It’s alot of reading but it’s all there it’s not like they’re hiding it.

Elliott
Guest
Elliott
1 month ago

How about Oregon creating their own sales tax and other modern methods of raising State income so that they don’t have to toll and pilfer money from a more successful state?

Jack Burton
Guest
Jack Burton
1 month ago
Reply to  Elliott

If WA is so much more successful, why are there all these people working in OR and whining about tolls?

Alex
Guest
Alex
1 month ago
Reply to  Jack Burton

Because there’s a lot of businesses in Portland? Lot of people live in Vancouver and commute to Portland for work. Those people pay income tax to Oregon AND have to pay sales tax in Washington when buying stuff. So many idiots in this comment section xD

Roy
Guest
Roy
1 month ago
Reply to  Jack Burton

A large percentage of people who cross over are Oregon transplants. The politics, urban growth boundary and crime bring more people to our more successful state.

Some guy
Guest
Some guy
1 month ago
Reply to  Elliott

You can’t just “create” a sales tax if you have income tax. It’s an A or B situation.

Bob Jones
Guest
Bob Jones
1 month ago
Reply to  Some guy

Tell that to California.

Roy
Guest
Roy
1 month ago
Reply to  Some guy

Not true. Some states have both.

Joe Commentor
Guest
Joe Commentor
1 month ago

Toll? If you work in OR after driving from WA, the ‘toll’ is called “state income tax”.

Richard Ratfink
Guest
Richard Ratfink
1 month ago
Reply to  Joe Commentor

Correct. I would love to live closer to where I work (PDX), but I have been to Portland and areas nearby. Yikes. Needs a lot of cleaning up but neither OR or the city cares. It seems to me and every other driver stuck in traffic south of the Columbia is that congestion seems engineered into the road system there. Once again OR and the city cares not and further will now take advantage of our misfortune and charge us more taxes. Aleviate congestion…what a laugh.

Sarah Bellisle
Guest
Sarah Bellisle
1 month ago

It’s always amazed me, that while stuck in traffic going north towards I5 bridge, where’s all the cars on the other side? Once into WA no traffic jam. Hmm. The exit for Hwy 14 being right on the other side, and everyone who takes that exit or anyone who lives in this area, know that it’s there. Yet going over the bridge they want to be in the car left lane knowing they need that 1st exit. They then slow the traffic over the bridge due to their own negligence and terrible driving skills, in my opinion, and at times doing this causing other drivers to slow down or worse yet collide with other vehicles making the traffic even worse and closing down a lane or 2 in the process. Which leaves everyone behind them to suffer for there selfish wants. Not to mention the ones who drive in the 1st lane who do not need to exit. Just amazes me.

Stan
Guest
Stan
1 month ago

Simple road construction on Washington side bringing all lanes into 1 then stop traffic often.

One
Guest
One
1 month ago

I-5 is a federal interstate ” freeway” buy no way should a state be able to toll. 205 was built with fed $ and was a bypass to get around p town but p town f up by putting on off ramps after the fact not the people’s problem it’s now the States

Mike Lyzer
Guest
Mike Lyzer
1 month ago

Let’s see, Max runs right up to the river but Vancouver would not vote for their part to continue the expansion and reduce the incredible traffic jam on I-5 and 205. Clark county continues to block any meaningful funding for interstate transit.
I suggested Clark county build a meaningful infrastructure that will attract businesses and reduce the number of people having to go across the bridge to get any meaningful work.

John Ley
Guest
John Ley
1 month ago
Reply to  Mike Lyzer

Mike —

As information, it’s been 4 decades since new road capacity has been added to the Portland metro area. I-205 opened in Dec. 1982. Regional population has since doubled, as has the number of cars on the road.

The original “plan” was to build a “ring road” around the metro area. Every major city in the world has at least one, if not multiple ring roads. Sadly, the “no more cars” people on the Oregon side killed building the second half of the “ring”.

Read this article. Chuck Green’s graphic is a wonderful “picture worth a thousand words”. You’ll note the majority of the ideas were proposed by leaders on the Washington side of the river.

https://www.clarkcountytoday.com/news/how-many-ideas-have-been-proposed-over-the-years-for-multiple-crossings-of-the-columbia-river/

After all — Portland has a DOZEN bridges across the Willamette River. Why should we be limited to just TWO crossing the Columbia River?

Steve
Guest
Steve
1 month ago

Anybody with Oregon plates on their car has to pay triple the toll! Washington plates pay 10 cents.

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