Letter to the Editor: Tolls Not Needed to Pay for New I-5 Bridge


The Interstate Bridge Replacement (IBR) program continues to resemble nothing more than a resurrection of the failed Columbia River Crossing (CRC). The major difference — $3.5 billion for the CRC versus up to $4.8 billion for the IBR.

Both proposals included tolling. Both have a “bridge too low” for marine traffic on the Columbia River, at 116 feet. Both include extending MAX light rail into Vancouver in spite of Clark County residents' rejection of light rail three times, and in spite of C-Tran’s bus rapid transit being cheaper and more flexible than light rail.

Both proposals fail to improve travel times, the one problem people want resolved. The IBR admits morning travel times will double by 2045, taking an hour to travel from the I-205/I-5 interchange at Salmon Creek to the Fremont Bridge.

In the original CRC, the cost of the bridge was $792 million; one quarter of the $3.5 billion price. Tolling was needed to pay for up to $1.5 billion in borrowed money. That is not the case today.

At last weeks meeting of 16 Oregon and Washington legislators, IBR staff shared they have identified $2.5 billion in federal money for the project. Simple math shows tolling dollars are not needed to replace the Interstate Bridge.

Washington state has allocated $1.1 billion for the project, $1 billion in 2022 and $100 million in the 2015 Connecting Washington package. The program assumes Oregon will provide $1 billion, bringing “local” funds to $2.1 billion. When added to the $2.5 billion of identified federal dollars, that creates a $4.6 billion pool of funds.

Two years ago, IBR staff briefed legislators the cost of the IBR would run between $3.2 billion and $4.8 billion. We therefore are within $200 million of the “high” cost estimate, without any tolling dollars.

Both estimates included light rail as a transit option. TriMet has told the IBR that they want $1.3 billion for a 3-mile MAX extension, or $430 million per mile. They also refuse to cover the operating costs of light rail in Vancouver. They demand “new taxes” to pay for light rail’s undisclosed operating costs.

C-Tran is building two separate BRT lines without any new taxes. Why would Clark County residents want to pay new taxes to support TriMet? They already pay over $325 million in Oregon income taxes (2020).

The IBR is proposing double “variable rate” tolls to drive on I-5 and use the bridge. That will harm hardworking low income families the most. The double tolls will cause many vehicles to divert onto the already congested I-205 Glenn Jackson Bridge.

Washington state has bailed out the state tolling program for three years, as funds collected did not cover the cost of collection. On Seattle’s I-405/SR167 system, the cost of collection was 68 percent last year. Compared to the 1 percent administration cost of the gas tax, tolling is an outrageous way to raise taxpayer money for transportation.

The Clark County Council recently joined Clackamas and Washington counties in opposing tolling. Tolls are not needed to pay for the bridge.


John Ley

Clark County