VANCOUVER — In attending the June Board meeting of our Regional Transportation Council (RTC), I addressed the issue of Oregon wanting to toll both I-5 and I-205. There was nothing on the agenda about Oregon’s tolls, nor was anything mentioned by RTC Director Matt Ransom in his report to citizens and the Board of Directors.
I came away feeling like my comments were the first the board members had heard of the issue. I therefore attended the Clark County Council meeting and shared the following comments and observations.
I believe it’s important to review the Mission Statement of the RTC:
RTC Mission Statement
To encourage and promote the development of a balanced, safe, efficient and affordable regional transportation system to meet the mobility needs of people and goods, within and through this region, and minimize transportation-related air pollution.
Surely the addition of tolls would be a significant “negative” with regards to the “affordable” part of their mission. Surely, they would need to be informed and have a say regarding the impact of any tolls on our regional transportation system.
I did some additional research. The Oregonian Newspaper had four different stories on Oregon’s transportation package in the month of May that mentioned tolls.
Here are The Oregonian stories prior to the June RTC meeting. First, May 9 which said in part:
“Tolling has also been considered to decrease traffic in the Portland area. Boquist said a Portland-area tolling plan would likely include tolls on both I-5 and I-205, though some stretches might be toll-free to decrease the burden on low-income Oregonians.”
Also, the report included:
“Beyer said a recurring complaint from businesses throughout Oregon was that the Portland-area traffic was costing them money.’’
“We forget sometimes that we’re an exporting state, and all the freight – the economy of Oregon – has to go that way,” he said. “We’re hurting our job expansion, we’re hurting the economy. … It’s just a question of do we want to address it or not?”
Then there’s the May 11 report in The Oregonian, which states:
“Half the funding would come from statewide tax increases, with the other half coming from gas tax revenue, registration fees and perhaps tolls from residents in Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties.”
Later in the story it reports:
“Local funds and a sales tax on new vehicles, and possibly tolls, will pay for congestion relief on I-5, I-205 and OR 217 in the form of wider roads and added lanes.”
The story later elaborates:
Lawmakers are interested in requiring tolls on some roads, both to raise revenue and to influence drivers’ behavior, such as discouraging people from driving during rush hour.
Travis Brouwer, assistant director of the Oregon Department of Transportation, said federal law generally precludes tolls except on new bridges and new roads or highway lanes. However, some federal pilot programs could offer options for expanded use of tolls in Oregon.
In the past, Oregon has mostly used tolls to pay for new bridge construction and could do so again, Brouwer said.
Lawmakers aren’t relying on any tolling revenue in their transportation funding plan, however.
Brouwer said it will take extensive computer modeling to figure out how much revenue tolls might raise, since some drivers would inevitably take alternate routes to avoid them.
Monroe said the improvements to I-205 and I-5 could open the door for tolling. The additional lane proposed on I-205 between the Abernethy Bridge and Stafford Road is one candidate, he said.
Another possibility that might work for parts of I-5 southbound, he said, is “congestion tolling,” or tolling during the busiest parts of the day.”
“Tolling in Oregon is almost like the sales tax and self-service gasoline,” he said. “It’s something that we really resist.”
Then there’s a May 27 editorial from The Oregonian. They talk about “the mother of all transportation packages“. No kidding. Especially when they want to toll Southwest Washington citizens while traveling on both I-5 and I-205.
“The mother-of-all transportation packages, which will be presented as a bill this week, was more than a year in the making and wisely braids several new sources of revenue to build over time while avoiding a raid on the state’s general fund.”
The May 27 editorial also stated:
“Money would come from a higher fuel tax, starting modestly but increasing annually to reach 11 cents to 14 cents per gallon; boosted title and registration fees; modest taxes on the sale of new vehicles and bicycles; and a bump in the payroll tax, for mass transit modes of travel. Tolling along segments of high-volume highways must be considered, too, as a part of the new-revenue picture.”
Finally, there was this May 31 news report, which stated:
“The state would also be instructed to seek federal permission to install tolls on Interstate 205 and Interstate 5 at the Washington border.”
Given all this reporting, how is it possible that our RTC director, who has three voting members on his Board of Directors from Oregon, knows nothing about Oregon’s proposed tolling?
He shouldn’t claim ignorance. The possibility of tolls started in this January 2017 news report published on Oregonlive.com.
“Lawmakers say every revenue option should be considered, including increases to the gas tax and license and registration fees, tolls on new highways, borrowing money, and new fees on bicycles and electric or high-mileage vehicles.”
Clearly, there is something wrong at our Regional Transportation Council. Is it incompetence in not knowing about this? Or is it intentionally hiding this from citizens and the Board of Directors? Either way, it is unacceptable for our RTC to not know and to not be involved in the discussions regarding tolling of both of our connections to the Portland metro region. There are 300,000 average daily crossings of both I-5 and I-205 according to RTC data.
Why have an RTC if they are going to be excluded from such a significant discussion with an unbelievably huge financial impact on Southwest Washington citizens?
Southwest Washington residents will be paying an extremely heavy price over Oregon’s tolling of both I-5 and I-205.
Per the CRC final environmental impact statement, and first pointed out not by the RTC but by Acuity Forensics — they reported that there would be $3.3 billion in toll revenues. Acuity Forensics estimated that Southwest Washington citizens could potentially be paying between 60 and 64 percent of the total tolls. That equated to at about $2 billion over a 30-year period, taken from Southwest Washington citizens.
The amount borrowed under the Columbia River Crossing (CRC) plan was $1.005 billion. Under the current Oregon plan, just over $1 billion is allocated to the three Portland area projects tied to the tolls. It is therefore reasonable to assume somewhat similar borrowing costs. The CRC tolls were estimated to be between $5 and $16 per round trip in the Acuity Forensics report.
In the end, July 6, 2017, the Oregon legislature passed their transportation bill which included “congestion pricing,” also known as variable tolls on I-5 and I-205 starting “at the Washington border.” Southwest Washington citizens should have been given an opportunity to make input, but that didn’t happen.
Camas resident John Ley is a citizen contributor for ClarkCountyToday.com on topics that impact that lives of Clark County residents.