IN THE LAST DAYS of the state legislative session, Governor Ted Kulongoski pulled a surprising move: vetoing a little two-paragraph bill that would have laid the groundwork to toll the I-5 and I-205 bridges to Vancouver starting the first day of 2011.
Tolls could be a stable funding source to raise some of the $4.2 billion needed to build the new 12-lane Columbia River Crossing (CRC) without having to dip heavily into the state's strapped general fund. Back in April, the governor called a press conference urging the state to find funding to build the big bridge as quickly as possible.
Some legislators fear that the governor's veto shows he will not fight for tolls when push comes to shove. "Whether you're for the bridge or against the bridge, tolling is going to be part of the funding solution," says Southeast Portland Representative Jules Kopel Bailey, who voted in favor of the bill, SB 580. "It's pretty surprising that the governor vetoed the bill because it's a pretty simple bill that doesn't put any handcuffs on."
Tolls are one of the most controversial elements of the heated debate over the bridge. During listening sessions last week, angry commuters said tolls would hurt working families and infringe on their personal liberty ["Toll Order," News, July 9]. The bill asked the Oregon Department of Transportation to begin exploring the option of tolling the bridge as soon as 2011.
In his veto statement, issued June 24, the governor cites cross-state partnership, not controversy, as the reason for his veto.
"SB 580 imposes an artificial deadline that is not helpful and ultimately could be detrimental to the progress we've made," wrote Kulongoski, noting, "I don't believe that the project can happen without some tolling."
Debate over the bill on the floor of the legislature turned into a debate over the merits of the bridge itself. Twenty-two representatives wound up voting against SB 580.
"I have no idea why the governor vetoed that bill, considering that he supports the bridge in its current design," says East Portland Representative Nick Kahl, who is against the 12-lane bridge. "I voted against it because I saw it as supporting the bridge in its current form."
Transportation Committee Chair Terry Beyer voted against the bill, but was not surprised by the governor's veto.
"I don't think this bill moved us forward on the project and we didn't need it," explains Beyer. "Washington isn't quite as enthusiastic about tolling. The two states are cooperating on this project and the deadline piece might put a kink in our relationship."