RTC board members far behind others on issue of tolling

Ken Vance Editorial Clarkcountytoday.comElected officials have stepped out against Oregon’s plan to place tolls on I-5 and I-205

Sometimes even when you’re right, you’re still wrong.

On Tuesday, members of the Southwest Washington Regional Transportation Council (RTC) tabled an attempt to have the council take a stand against Oregon’s proposed plan to place tolls on I-5 and I-205.

Port of Vancouver Commissioner and RTC Council Member Jerry Oliver attempted to have the issue added as an action item to the agenda for discussion. However, fellow council members — Vancouver City Councilor Jack Burkman, Washougal City Councilor Paul Greenlee and Ridgefield Mayor Ron Onslow all objected to the motion and after a short discussion the objection prevailed in the form of a vote by the RTC council members.

The basis for the objection by Burkman, Greenlee and Onslow was essentially the same. Oliver had circulated a letter just the night before the meeting that was drafted to Tammy Baney of the Oregon Transportation Council expressing the RTC’s opposition to tolling.

Each of the three objecting council members said they had just seen the letter and hadn’t had an opportunity to solicit input from the councils they represent on the RTC board. Onslow also stated his concern that Tuesday’s agenda was already full and there wasn’t enough time available that day to add a item that would likely elicit a fair amount of discussion.

Burkman, Greenlee and Onslow are correct. They aren’t representing themselves on the RTC board, they are representing fellow elected officials and citizens. So, even though opposition to Oregon’s proposed tolling seems like the most obvious decision in Clark County’s history, the right thing is for them to receive input and counsel from those they represent, regardless of the issue.

So, it would be very hard to make a case against the board members’ vote to table the issue until the next RTC meeting on Tue., Jan. 2. However, the action — or more accurately the inaction — of the RTC board should give Clark County residents more than a small reason to be concerned.

How in the world has it taken the RTC board members this long to make a collective statement on this issue? Oregon’s proposal to place tolls on I-5 and I-205 near the Columbia River was a part of House Bill 2017, which produces a $5.3 billion funding package designed to “target congestion, public transportation, crumbling roads and decaying bridges.’’ And, even though the bill was passed in early July, its contents — including the proposed tolling — were revealed months before.

So, while other elected officials from the area — most notably Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler — have taken the lead in opposition to Oregon’s plans, the members of the RTC board have remained silent for these many months. That is absolutely unfathomable to me.

How can an elected official from Clark County not be on a rooftop shouting their opposition to this? Remember, about 74,000 Clark County residents commute to work in Oregon. In 2016,  over 72,000 Clark County residents paid $204 million in Oregon income taxes. Another 41,000 “other” Washington citizens paid an additional $88 million to Oregon. That’s $292 million last year alone.

That’s fair. If a Washington resident elects to work in Oregon, they know they will have to pay that state’s income tax. But now, Oregon wants Clark County residents to pay more and get virtually nothing in return. Remember, the revenue created by Oregon’s proposed tolls on I-5 and I-205 will not go to any project that will increase the number of corridors or additional lanes and it also won’t be used for repairs on either of the existing bridges over the Columbia River. The overwhelming majority of the revenue created by tolling will be spent for transportation maintenance on Oregon roads not routinely used by Washington residents.

Those folks in Clark County who are fighting the good fight on this issue are doing so in the face of very tall odds stacked against them. The battle will eventually have to be won at the federal level, but those warriors need every possible voice and organized body to stand together to even have a chance at thwarting Oregon’s efforts. Any division or lack of unified opposition, greatly diminishes the cause.

So, if an elected official in Clark County has been silent on this issue for this long, you need to ask them why? Realize that they know if they speak out in favor of tolling it would be political suicide, so you would think they would be jumping out of their seats to take a stand in opposition. And, if they’re not, I think it’s fair to assume their representing something or someone other than the majority of the citizens of Clark County.

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