Bart Hansen: ‘I remember having that meeting (with ODOT) and asking what Southwest Washington residents get out of this proposal’
At their Monday night meeting, members of the Vancouver City Council received an update on Oregon’s plans for tolling all major highways in the region, via a congestion pricing program. The tolling program aims to implement tolls on I-5 and I-205 to manage congestion and raise revenue. This will clearly impact the estimated 75,000 Clark County residents who commute to Oregon for work.
The Oregon legislature initiated the program in 2017 by directing ODOT to “study” tolling starting “at the border” with Washington and continuing to where I-5 and I-205 merge near Wilsonville. Following nearly a year of community conversations that included Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle and former Clark County Councilor Eileen Quiring O’Brien, the Oregon Transportation Commission approved the program.
In May 2018, members of the Vancouver City Council endorsed the program with certain conditions. They expressed “concerns about potential impacts to residents of Southwest Washington and the equitable distribution of benefits.” They also wanted to ensure there was an “equitable distribution of benefits.”
“I’ve been really trying to think about why I’ve been so triggered on this issue,” said Councilor Ty Stober Monday night. He had met with Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler and felt good about where the effort was headed. He noted the plan and policy the council supported back in 2018 has changed. Stober is no longer sure he can support the policy.
Councilor Bart Hansen chimed in. “I remember having that meeting (with ODOT) and asking what Southwest Washington residents get out of this proposal. The answer was time.”
Hansen went on to lament that the program has advanced in an unacceptable way. “The people who are going to benefit in time are wealthy,” he said. He previously labeled Oregon’s tolling program as creating “roads for the rich.”
Every survey of citizens conducted by the Interstate Bridge Replacement (IBR) program has indicated the top priority of citizens is saving time and reducing traffic congestion. In January, their most recent survey indicated 78 percent of Southwest Washington residents want the IBR to help them save time and reduce congestion.
Last fall, Oregon Sen. Lew Frederick asked “how much time will people save?” IBR Administrator Greg Johnson responded by talking about “three lanes” being north and south of the project area. So essentially the proposed I-5 Bridge replacement will save no time. The IBR team expects to tie into Oregon’s electronic tolling collection system to charge citizens to use the replacement Interstate Bridge.
Hansen and Stober are especially concerned about the financial impacts on the poor and low income workers. “The proposal runs through some areas that are some of the lowest income areas in the entire metro area,” Stober said. A month ago, the two councilors had asked for more information on Oregon’s tolling program, while expressing concerns about negative impacts.
At the February meeting, Katherine Kelly, Vancouver senior policy analyst, shared there are three different tolling programs. Tolling as part of funding a replacement Interstate Bridge, ODOT’s “congestion pricing” scheme that will charge varying rates in an effort to reduce traffic congestion on I-5 and I-205, and then Portland’s Regional Mobility Pricing Program that seeks to toll all area highways and freeways. Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle labeled it a “very complicated issue.”
“We need to quit talking and start acting,” said Hansen last month. He laments the council has been talking about the issue for years, and yet local citizens appear to be getting the short end of the stick.
They believe there is an opportunity to ask some hard questions of Oregon officials through the current process. Metro councilors will be voting on funding additional aspects of the tolling program during the next few months.
“I’m not seeing where this is going to benefit time for anybody who is working and doing what they can to get over to their job every day,” Hansen said. “I see this plan as a way of targeting Southwest Washington, I still see this plan is targeting low income.”
“I have read in this plan where it’s supposed to address bottlenecks. Well, the Rose Quarter has tripled in price,” he noted. It was originally proposed at $450 million, and is now estimated to cost $1.25 billion. Hansen is worried Washington residents will be footing the bill for that huge cost escalation.
Vancouver Councilor Bart Hansen expresses concerns and frustrations about the Oregon congestion pricing tolling plan. He fears it is targeting Vancouver and Clark County residents, and the only people who benefit will be the wealthy. Video courtesy CVTV
ODOT’s current plans for the Rose Quarter will likely keep just two through lanes for I-5 traffic. It’s highly unlikely the expenditure will fix the bottleneck Hansen mentioned.
Hansen concluded with the following. “My concern is that we are not acting aggressively enough to represent the folks of Southwest Washington in general, and the city of Vancouver, in what I see, is basically something that is targeting them directly.”