The Columbia River Crossing (CRC) staff dropped a bombshell last week on a panel convened to review the $3 billion bridge project: the CRC will not be tolling the I-205 bridge. Hearing of the new plan, one of the expert panelists, Dr. Michael Meyer, a civil engineering professor from Georgia, accidentally called the idea of tolling only one bridge across the river stupid, before quickly changing his description to "myopic."
The eight-person review panel (including no Oregonians) was pulled together by Oregon and Washington's governors after four local leaders complained the freeway and light rail bridge to Vancouver would have "unacceptable impacts" on communities.
Here's a transcript of went down at the marathon eight-hour independent review panel meeting last week:
CRC Staffer Khalid Bekka: I want to make sure I stress that up front, going forward on financial modeling, I-205 is not part of that at all. Going forward, the scenario includes only I-5 tolling.
Commissioner Timothy Neuman: So you're not moving forward with any scenario that has tolling on 205?
Commissioner Dr. Michael Meyer: I know it's not part of the project, but being an outsider, you've got two major bridges across the river, what an ideal situation to manage the flows across the river. From a management of flow perspective, you're just looking at I-5? From a broader public policy perspective, it sure seems, from an outside perspective stupid - oh nope, uh, uh, I did not say that. If there's a reporter in the room, I did not say that. It's, uh, perhaps...
Someone off camera: Inefficient?
Dr. Meyer: No, no, uh... myopic, most people would know what that means, myopic not to look at the total crossings of the river.
CRC Director Richard Brandman: Absolutely.
Tolling has been a controversial issue for the bridge, but until now the CRC staff has been analyzing options that involve tolling both I-205 and I-5, to raise revenue for the expensive project but also to control traffic flows, so that commuters don't clog up I-205 just to avoid the I-5 toll. On their website and among their tolling materials, the project states that's it's "unknown" whether I-205 will be tolled, but it's clear from Director Richard Brandman's comments last week that the CRC won't be further studying the matter.
More background on the panel and tolling plus Brandman's response below the cut.
Clackamas County Commission Chair Lynn Peterson penned a letter (pdf) last month to the CRC staff, reminding them that Clackamas's support of the project was conditional on the project also tolling I-205, since tolling only I-5 would drive traffic into her county.
Anyway, here's Brandman's explanation for why the project won't be tolling I-205.
Dr. Meyer: So you have your project, but there's a bigger picture that people need to make decisions on, really, I guess, right?
Brandman: Let me answer you this way. If you look at the scenarios, the sensitivities of tolling both bridges was performed in the tolling analysis. There were several scenarios in that were analyzed for tolling I-205. And that was to provide information to the implications of tolling just I-5 or both bridges.
There has been a determination that for this project, the tolling of I-5 would be the only bridge assumed in the financial planning of this project, because tolling I-205 takes you into a whole host of other issues. Statutory issues, for example, there are stat issues on tolling existing bridges on interstates where there are not capacity projects involved to increase your capacity. You're also introducing a much broader conversation that really is of a regional nature about what is the future of the whole entire freeway system for tolling and congestion pricing in the Portland Vancouver metropolitan area. Those are issues that are best addressed at the regional level with Metro and the regional transportation council of Clark County. You've got further issues of political issues, where you have those that are in high offices in the US Department of Transportation and the Congress of the United States that don't believe it's a good idea to toll existing bridges without projects on those bridges. It's not to say that at some point I-205 wouldn't be tolled, it's not to say that I-205 wouldn't be tolled within the same time frame of this project... that conversation will play itself out in a different venue.
You can download a video of the meeting here online, this moment occurs about two hours in.
Get the best of the Mercury each week in your inbox!