PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A bill to allow tolling to pay for a new I-5 bridge is close to becoming law.
The Washington State House of Representatives approved a Senate bill Tuesday authorizing tolls.
Six Republicans from SW Washington voted against the bill after unsuccessfully trying to pass an amendment that would make Washington residents who pay Oregon income tax exempt from tolls.
“Every day, many Clark County residents are commuting. I think it’s approximately 83,000 are commuting across the I-5 bridge or the (I)-205 bridge. They are already paying Oregon income tax,” said Rep. Greg Cheney (R-Battle Ground). “They pay that tax at a very high rate.”
“The users of the bridge are going to contribute to the cost of rebuilding that bridge, because many of those drivers know how crucially important it is to get that bridge replaced,” said Rep. Jurado Stonier (D-Vancouver).
The bill will now head back to the Senate, but is expected to be signed by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.
For nearly three years Greg Johnson, administrator of the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program, has led the renewed effort to replace the 106-year-old I-5 bridge, which will be turned into an 8 to 10-lane structure that includes light rail, immediately downriver from the current bridge.
Johnson says construction will begin in late 2025 and that about $1.24 billion or 20% of the costs will come from tolls.
“Tolling is never fun in any place, especially where it has not been before,” he said. “But it is a necessity for projects like this that have billion-plus dollar price tags.
The tolling system would work similarly to what’s already in the Seattle area, with transponders for drivers to automatically pay from an account, and electronic license plate readers to catch those who don’t pay.
The fee would vary depending on congestion, but the current estimate is between $1.50 to $3.55.
There are no plans to put tolls on the Washington side of I-205, but Johnson said ODOT is looking at tolling I-205 once drivers get to the Oregon side.
Engineers believe that the current I-5 bridge would collapse during a major earthquake, which is why building a third bridge isn’t being considered. Johnson also said that a third bridge won’t divert enough traffic from the I-5 bottleneck.
“It doesn’t address the major concerns that exist at this location,” he said.
Johnson says the biggest change in the renewed project is a greater focus on making sure they use the most environmentally friendly construction techniques.
However, another major element of the project is the price tag.
Before the first effort at building a new bridge was killed a decade ago, the cost jumped from $3 billion to as high as $6 billion.
When asked about whether the cost for the second attempt will also balloon, Johnson said that “time is one of the worst enemies of a mega project. The longer it remains unbuilt or the longer it takes to build. That’s when the prices start escalating.”
Johnson believes the bridge will open to traffic in 2031, including light rail. It will then take several more years after that to finish the interchanges. There are also plans to have toll subsidies for low-income people.