New tolls, and Oregon’s non-fix to I-5 at the Rose Quarter

John Ley

John Ley
John Ley

In a June 1 update — the Oregon State Legislature has revised their billion dollar transportation package.

What was $450 million for the Rose Quarter, is now $338 million according to The Oregonian Newspaper.

More significantly, Oregon lawmakers are proposing to toll both I-5 and I-205. The Oregonian story reports:

“The state would also be instructed to seek federal permission to install tolls on Interstate 205 and Interstate 5 at the Washington border.’’

Clearly, this is unacceptable to Southwest Washington residents who send an estimated 75,000 workers daily across the Columbia River to work in Oregon.

Oregon recently gained attention by proposing an $8.4 billion transportation package. A $450 million Rose Quarter “fix” was included. We know this two-mile, two-lane section of Interstate 5 is the real bottleneck for traffic congestion and freight mobility.

But after digging into the details, they are proposing to add zero new through lanes to I-5 at the Rose Quarter. It’s an expensive “non-fix.”

They’ll add or extend “auxiliary lanes” for merging and widen shoulders, while building two “lids” across the top of I-5. But sadly, Oregon refuses to add any new through-lanes to I-5.

Graphic courtesy city of Portland
Graphic courtesy city of Portland

Transportation architect Kevin Peterson, a Washington resident,  told Clark County citizens recently that one or two additional lanes are needed at the Rose Quarter. He shared that at the Columbia River, we currently need four lanes in each direction, with up to eight lanes by 2060, unless a new transportation corridor is built.

Graphic courtesy of Kevin Peterson
Graphic courtesy of Kevin Peterson

Without any new lanes at the Rose Quarter, money spent upgrading or replacing the I-5 Bridge will deliver negligible results.

“It’s the elephant in the room,” said Peterson. The Columbia River Crossing (CRC) demonstrated that fact by delivering only a one-minute improvement in the morning, southbound commute.

Washington recently built a new on/off ramp to I-205 at 18th Street for $40 million. These two, one-mile new lanes improved traffic flow very inexpensively. Oregon needs to address the Rose Quarter mess with new through lanes, before we talk about “fixing” the I-5 Bridge.

What could we buy for transportation with that $450 million (or $338 million)?

Figg Engineering offered our community a “fixed price” East County Bridge for $860 million. Split evenly between Oregon and Washington, there would be $20 million to spare in Oregon’s $450 million Rose Quarter “non-fix” and both states would have a new, third bridge across the Columbia River.

Peterson estimated that an East County bridge would reduce traffic congestion by 15 to 20 percent on I-205 at the Portland airport and Interstate 84. This would a huge improvement for reducing eastside traffic congestion and improving freight mobility.

At the recent Transportation Solutions Legislative Town Hall hosted by Rep. Liz Pike, Linda Figg, of Figg Bridge Builders, indicated that they could build a bridge farther east (Camas to Troutdale) for $800 million, because the river is narrower.

Every speaker at the Transportation Town Hall agreed — we need new “capacity” for cars and trucks in our region.

The 2008 RTC “Visioning Study” proposed two new transportation corridors — one west of I-5 and one east of I-205. Portland has a dozen bridges across the Willamette River, let’s focus on adding new bridges and new transportation corridors across the Columbia River, before we “focus” on fixing or upgrading the Interstate Bridge.

Graphic courtesy of Regional Transportation Council
Graphic courtesy of Regional Transportation Council

Sadly, Oregon’s $450 (or $338) million proposal will offer zero new through lanes at the Rose Quarter. It will remain a two-mile, two-lane section of I-5 that continues to have the highest accident rate of any section of road in Oregon. It will remain the bottleneck on I-5 in our region.

Graphic courtesy city of Portland
Graphic courtesy city of Portland

John Ley is a resident of Camas and an active participant in issues that impact Clark County residents.


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