For Whom The Bridge Tolls

An article in last week’s Willamette Week discusses the likelihood that someday we may need to toll the Willamette River bridges to fund their maintenance. This is notoriously a difficult idea to sell to the constituents of Portland, and an increase in vehicle registration fees seems to be much more likely in the near term.

Multnomah County Chairman Ted Wheeler told WW recently he was certain drivers will someday pay a toll to cross Willamette River bridges.

Six days later, in a follow-up interview, Wheeler backtracked. “I probably have to tamp my enthusiasm,” he said. “Just raising the idea of tolls on bridges is near-heresy.”

Not in San Francisco, New York City or even Cascade Locks, where drivers have paid tolls for decades. But here in Portland—a city that hasn’t paid a bridge toll since 1895—free rides across the river are seen as a divine right.

How will residents and Multnomah County bridge users be influenced by paying a toll to cross the CRC when it is completed (in whatever form)? Will it be easier or more difficult to sell new tolls to the public once we get used to the idea of paying tolls?

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