How Would ODOT Pay for the CRC?

The Columbia River Crossing was front page news in Salem last week (more on that later), which begs the question, if Oregon goes ahead on its own, how would the bill get paid?

The first installment is the $450M that the legislature committed last year. They’d have to repeat that commitment, as it expired when Washington did not cough up the matching amount. At the time, the legislature did not specify a source of funds to repay the bonds. ODOT had suggested they could cover the first couple of years from existing revenues. That seems somewhat dubious now, as ODOT appears to be effectively broke (i.e., all its revenues are committed), as this post from Sightline demonstrates.

The next slug of revenue would be from tolls. But Joe Cortright, while dissecting the project on Blue Oregon, points out that CDM Smith, the consulting firm that did the investment-grade analysis, has a habit of overestimating toll receipts. And of course, it’s still very much an open question whether Washington will assist us with toll enforcement.

A big inducement for approving the project has always been the prospect of $850M from the feds for the transit component. But this week brings the news that the Congressional Budget Office estimates $100B of general fund dollars or new revenue would be needed to fund the aspirations of the pending Transportation Bill. Can Patty Murray hang onto to about 1% of that for the CRC?

It seems timely that all this is coming to a head just as the next season of “House of Cards” is being released.

And one final thought. Given the diversion of 50,000 cars a day to the I-205 bridge that the tolls are estimated to cause, is it possible that ODOT’s REAL strategy is to eventually toll that bridge too? Is it possible that they simply don’t want to raise that now, judging that while the diversion might be a calamity, proposing tolls on I-205 would make it even harder to get the project adopted at this moment?

13 Comments

13 Responses to How Would ODOT Pay for the CRC?

  1. Dwaine Dibbly
    February 18, 2014 at 3:38 am Link

    I thought that ODOT couldn’t simply mandate tolls on the 205 bridge, that there is some prohibition against tolling existing infrastructure. What sort of legislative hoops would ODOT have to jump through to get 205 tolled?

    • Chris Smith
      February 18, 2014 at 5:49 am Link

      I am told that there is a “pilot program” exemption that is being applied in Seattle now. But worst case, it would take an act of congress. If Patty Murray can deliver $850M for transit, I imagine she could deliver a tolling exception.

      • bjcefola
        February 18, 2014 at 8:34 am Link

        I think the political cost/benefit to Sen. Murray for bringing an I205 toll vs money to greenwash highway construction is a lot different.

        If the CRC goes forward I expect NE pdx will have to eat the congestion for a decade or so, when CRC2 will be proposed to fix what CRC1 created.

        • Wells
          February 19, 2014 at 8:25 am Link

          My definition of “this mess” highlights engineering, a perspective the discussion about competence, honest evaluation, and public good objectives, somehow gets left behind.
          Structural integrity.
          Worse traffic hazards on Hayden Island Interchange, overhead ramps, noise.
          Concept #1 left behind verbotten spoakinzi..

      • Anandakos
        February 18, 2014 at 8:52 am Link

        Chris,

        There is a “pilot program” of twenty congestion tolling projects throughout the country. It is my understanding that all the “slots” have been applied for and granted, but not all have been realized. A couple haven’t even been started and so might conceivably be up for grabs.

        But, given the House of Representatives’ allergy to anything resembling a tax or “user fee” (except for transit and other Socialist schemes of course), expansion of the program is a pipe dream.

  2. Dave
    February 18, 2014 at 9:44 am Link

    Collecting tolls shouldn’t be an issue. I drive over the Port Mann bridge in Vancouver BC and never paid the toll. Then I got a letter that they would send me to collections if I didn’t pay. So if a Canadian bridge can enforcement tolls, why wouldn’t Oregon be able to do so.

    • Chris Smith
      February 18, 2014 at 9:48 am Link

      The State Treasurer is insisting (correctly in my view) that Washington State would be a partner in the collections enterprise. That is, Washington won’t renew your drivers license or vehicle registration until you pay up what you owe Oregon for tolls.

      • EngineerScotty
        February 18, 2014 at 11:20 am Link

        Though if a future CRC were to include light rail, I suspect that Washington Republicans would try to pass legislation forbidding WSDOT to assist ODOT with toll collection… :)

      • Evan Manvel
        February 18, 2014 at 3:28 pm Link

        The Treasurer was asking for that, which is likely why his approval got written out of the bill text.

        Who approves the financing plan now? Oh, right, the (Governor-appointed) Oregon Transportation Commission.

  3. Margaret Tweet
    February 18, 2014 at 5:59 pm Link

    The governors of WA and OR have publicly discussed tolling Interstate 205, and don’t mention it openly these days. CRC staff have stated it might happen in the future, and should be expected if tolling on I-5 is started.
    “Light rail and tolling, Kitzhaber said, “creates incentives for people to get out of cars,” and while light rail partially encourages that, tolling is a necessary financial incentive to “create a pressure to inspire” people to use that public transit.”
    “The governors said they favor higher tolls during peak use hours. After the meeting, the governors also said they haven’t ruled out the idea of tolling Interstate 205, to keep down congestion from those going out of their way to dodge tolls on I-5.”
    Full story http://www.columbian.com/news/2011/apr/25/governors-build-truss-bridge-replace-i-5-span/
    Tolling the Glenn Jackson Bridge on I-205 is not part of the current project, but could arise separately, Strickler said.”
    http://www.oregonlive.com/business/index.ssf/2013/08/oregon-led_columbia_river_cros.html

    • Anandakos
      February 19, 2014 at 11:46 am Link

      Governors can “discuss” tolling I-205, but they can’t unilaterally do it. Federal law is quite clear that tolls can be added to Interstate facilities (“Interstate” here meaning the “Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways”) only to expand capacity or pay for the replacement of a structure which has passed it useful life. There is the pilot project to which Chris referred, but it’s fully subscribed and not likely to be expanded while Paul Ryan writes the Federal budget.

      So don’t worry about tolls on I-205; they are not going to happen unless complete Democratic control of the government, including 60 seats in the Senate held by transportation “progressives”, comes about. That certainly cannot happen until at least 2022.

      The simple way to solve this problem is to do some seismic work on the existing bridges and provide sturdy electronic over-height protection to avoid a repeat of the Skagit River debacle.

      Because the Confederate-dominated government of Clark County insists on strutting around thumbing its nose at the rest of the region, it needs to be held on the very short leash of unacceptable traffic congestion for cross-river traffic to prevent it from paving the north end of the county.

      Yes, that’s hard on the freight industry and genuine interstate travelers between places farther south in Oregon and farther north in Washington, but so be it. If the voters of Clark County decide at some time in the future to play nice with the rest of the region, that is the time to consider replacement with a modern bridge. It might justifiably have four northbound lanes in order to handle the higher afternoon peaks while keeping the lid on traffic in the morning by providing only three southbound lanes. Southbound capacity expansion will dramatically increase the leakage to parallel arterials through North Portland that already congests every one.

      A new bridge should also incorporate some sort of transit preference that will help redevelopment of the downtown area, probably Wells’ two transit-only lane, one bike and pedestrian lane annex.

      • Wells
        February 21, 2014 at 10:23 am Link

        The two transit lanes Anandokos refers to is not my proposal. I propose a 3-lane Transit/Pedway span, SINGLE-DECK “attached” on the westside of a new southbound span of 5-lanes (3 thru-lanes + 2 exit lanes) The southbound entrance from Hayden Island at the new Marine Drive interchange with Concept #1 Off-island Access).
        LRT to a Jantzen Bch junction with BRT to Vancouver Mall. BRT ‘could’ extend to Delta Park.

        The double-deck bridge is structurally unsound. The Hayden Island spagetti ramp interchange design is extremely hazardous, noisy, polluting
        and ruins island continuity & development potential.

        Going on and on about tolls is a distraction from these more important concerns, public safety, pollution, land-use, etc.

        • Anandakos
          February 21, 2014 at 10:43 am Link

          What exactly is the functional difference between “two transit-only lane, one bike and pedestrian lane annex” and “3-lane Transit/Pedway span, SINGLE-DECK ‘attached’ on the westside of a new southbound span”?

          Seriously, what is the difference? I didn’t use exactly the same series of English language word symbols that this poster did and therefore am “distract[ed] from these more important concerns”?

          We’re forbidden from using “you” statements on this blog so I won’t use the English language word symbols “narcissistic” and “monomaniac” together in a declarative statement about my interlocutor.

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