The Oregonian has a remarkably frank editorial on the need for tolling to make the Columbia River Crossing work, and even takes on the beneficial effects of tolling to manage demand – not just to fund construction.
But they also suggest that local (State) government is going to come up with 1/3 of the project funding – I doubt it.
28 responses to “Oregonian Tells it Like it is on CRC Tolling”
Of course, if we simply put congestion tolls on the bridge that’s already there, we could get all those time-saving benefits without having to build the $4 billion dollar bridge. And we could do it this year and see the benefits immediately.
I know, I know … federal law doesn’t allow tolling of existing facilities. But wouldn’t it be easier — or at least, a heck of a lot cheaper — to change the law to allow congestion pricing?
The Oregonian tells it “like it is” but leaves out the most salient fact: peak hour tolls will probably be in the range of $5 hour when the bridge is open. Does it think there will be any appetite for a new bridge if the users have to pay even one-third of the cost at this price?
Federal law does allow tolling of existing facilities, with a waiver from the US DOT (highly likely for the SR 520 bridge replacement in Seattle, which will require tolling the parallel (and existing) I-90 bridge)
One question for Douglas K–
If we were to toll the existing Glenn Jackson and Interstate Bridges, assuming the law were changed–why not toll other freeway locations in the metro area? The Vista Ridge Tunnel? The Marquam and Fremont Bridges? The Abernethy Bridge (I-205) in Oregon City? The Boone Bridge (I-5) south of Wilsonville? Or for that matter, why not put a tollbooth in the middle of the Terwilliger Curves, or on 217 near Washington Square, or out in Tanasbourne?
If tolls are to be used to finance new construction of infrastructure, then they should be limited to places relevant to that construction. But if we open the door to congestion pricing; why limit it to residents of the Couv?
This plot keeps getting thicker…and sicker!
Anyone who thinks the tolls will just pay for the bridge itself (expensive as it is) needs an education. City of Portland is calling for “tolls in perpetuity” probably to pay for other mega projects down the pike, which may not qualify for much federal funding.
Secondly, what benefit is there to discouraging Washington residents from seeking employment in Oregon? They are already traveling here for many purchases. Their employment was bringing in $160 million in revenue back in 2002 (102 million from Clark Co,), probably closer to $200 million recently. When they are employed here aren’t they patronizing Oregon businesses, which also pay tax?
We should set aside that revenue, and build a third bridge in the BNSF corridor, and provide a route to future jobs in the Hillsboro area–which will produce even more tax revenue for our Oregon. And a new route could be designed so that highly efficient mass transit–SUCH AS LONDON’s NEW DOUBLE DECKER BUSES—could make the Vancouver/ Hillsboro connection.
One question for Douglas K–
If we were to toll the existing Glenn Jackson and Interstate Bridges, assuming the law were changed–why not toll other freeway locations in the metro area?
Why not, indeed? I was talking about the CRC specifically, and making the point about why the project is unnecessary, but I never suggested it should be the only place with congestion pricing. I generally favor peak-hour pricing as the most efficient, lowest-cost way to address congestion, while simultaneously raising money to maintain our highway infrastructure.
Ron Swaren:“could make the Vancouver/ Hillsboro connection.”
ws:I’m trying to picture this. How will one get across the West Hills – an area prone to land slides and unstable soils? Furthermore, how much land acquisition would need to occur?
There do seem to be a few commenters around here who regard The Couv with some scorn–as a bunch of environment-hating right-wingers who only live there for the purpose of flouting Oregon’s noble land use laws :)–but I generally consider such attitudes to be utter nonsense, and wholly inappropriate. (Likewise for numerous references to the “People’s Republic of Portland”.
One advantage of tolling the Columbia River bridges is that there are no surface streets one can use to avoid the toll. If you slap a toll on the Vista Ridge tunnel–you’d probably see lots of motorists getting off at the PGE Park exit, and tying up traffic in Goose Hollow. (Put the tollbooth between the PGE Park exit and the zoo; and you’ll see motorists cramming up Washington Park, or bypassing 26 altogether and using Barnes Road or Beaverton/Hillsdale Highway). On the east side, where you’ve got a nice grid and few geographic impediments to surface mobility; bypassing tollbooths on the Banfield would be even easier.
And maybe that’s OK; the state of California seems to have no problem with tolling CA 73 between Irvine and El Toro, but having the San Diego Freeway be free in the same stretch. CA73 is frequently fast while I-5/I-405 is jammed, and functions as a premium service. OTOH, an influx of commuters using surface streets to avoid freeway tolls might have an adverse affect on motorists.
(One of the stupidest toll roads I’ve encountered, I think, is Virgina Route 267, which runs between Falls Church, VA (just west of Washington DC) west to Leesburg; passing Dulles Airport. An access road in the median provides toll-free access to the airport from DC (this access road has no exits other than at the ends). At the Dulles Airport end, a platoon of Virginia State Troopers stands guard to make sure that everybody who uses this highway, actually stops at the airport, writing tickets to anyone caught (or suspected of) using the access road to evade tolls. And judging from the number of pulled-over motorists I encountered last time I flew out of Dulles (some number of years ago), the aforementioned troopers do quite a bit of business.
I meant to say… might have an adverse affect on local residents, not motorists.
To paraphrase The Joker (Nicholson, not Ledger)… “this blog needs an edit function!”
The Oregonian editorial “Telling the truth on tolling” clearly depicts the bias view of tolling the CRC also portrayed by transit advocates and bicyclists. Totally missing from the concept is equity. Undoubtedly, if a new bridge is built, tolling of some kind will become part of the funding package. The inconvenient truth is that in addition to providing six through lanes and six auxiliary lanes of motor vehicle travel on a new bridge, there is also a significant price tag attached to providing the infrastructure for both transit and bicycles. Additionally there are infinitely increasing costs to operate transit. Therefore, selective tolling by time of day and mode choice lacks credibility.
Tolls should not be used to pay for anything except to pay for the infrastructure being used, and not be priced in a manner that attempts to dictate to the public what their personal choice of mobility should be. Moreover, equity demands the funding for the non-motor vehicle alternative mode infrastructure be at least in part, directly paid for by the people who use it. That requires assessing transit passengers with increased fares or tolling surcharges, and bicyclists with tolls or tolling fees. Anything less can easily be viewed as tax discrimination.
What is the cost of providing a bike lane? You keep saying it costs a lot, but how much? Transit we know the cost, at least.
The failure of the CRC DEIS to even look at an options that restored the existing bridges, added an arterial bridge for local traffic and light rail, removed substandard on/off ramps, and managed the whole thing with tolls says it all. The CRC is just a PR campaign for more motor vehicle lanes which in these hot times should and is running out of steam (and money).
The failure of the CRC DEIS to even look at an options that restored the existing bridges, added an arterial bridge for local traffic and light rail, removed substandard on/off ramps, and managed the whole thing with tolls says it all.
What, that there’s absolutely no way to get federal funding to do that, since the current bridges have substandard lane widths and shoulders?
The only options that would work to get federal funding is significant upgrades (too expensive), bypass the existing bridges (likely would cost as much as the CRC anyway, if not more), or build it like they’re looking at the CRC. I do think they threw away the alternate bridge options too early, but I also understand Vancouver’s desire not to route the traffic right through the middle of downtown to connect a new arterial bridge to I-5.
“What is the cost of providing a bike lane?”
About 300M for the CRC project as proposed – and that is not factoring in a proportional share of the bridge superstructure.
“The failure of the CRC DEIS to even look at an options that restored the existing bridges, added an arterial bridge for local traffic and light rail”
This is an unlikely solution in that the existing bridges are unsafe for freeway traffic. However, an option that would work would be to retain the existing historical bridges for local and interchange traffic (Hayden Island and SR 14), convert one of the lanes on each bridge for light rail, and widen one of the sidewalks to accommodate bicycles – all to be done after constructing a new six lane and much safer highway bridge for through traffic only.
Here’s an interesting question:
I understand that tolls are to be collected southbound but not northbound.
How do you manage variable-rate tolling for the afternoon rush hour if no northbound tolls are being collected?
How do you manage variable-rate tolling for the afternoon rush hour if no northbound tolls are being collected?
No need, by design. It’s how the Bay Area toll bridges mostly work. One-way tolling minimizes backups, and you charge double knowing people have to come home eventually.
One (minor) disadvantage of the Bay Area approach to tolls is that the principle that you pay heading INTO SF, or LEAVING Oakland/East Bay, contributes a bit to the snootiness that folks in The City have towards their brethren accross the bay. (For some reason, that principle applies even if you go north from Berkley into Vallejo; whereas the Golden Gate is tolled south).
From a more practical matter, in the case of the Bay area bridges, there’s frequently more room on the east side to put a toll plaza and the queueing area for cars.
Scotty – Wow, we are on the same wavelength so often, it’s scary.
I live just north of the city of Vancouver, but in urban Clark County. I appreciate your more realistic view of people that live in Clark County. I am an avid recycler and I didn’t buy a house in Clark County to avoid land-use laws. I bought a house in Clark County because my wife got a job in Clark County and the commute was a lot shorter for her and we wouldn’t have to pay state income tax on her job. I was pleased that I could afford a house with a big garage (no basement though) and a nice lot, so when my kid is older we can play baseball/soccer, etc. in the yard. I continue to work in Oregon and I have paid 10,000s of dollars in Oregon income tax as a Washington resident.
I don’t think of Portland as the “People’s Republic” – I was born and lived more than 30 years in Portland and while it leans liberal, I do get tired of all of the rhetoric.
I am willing to pay a toll to cross the new CRC. I earn a pretty decent income, so the toll won’t affect me too much and if it causes less traffic, I’m willing to pay it.
As a daily commuter on the bridge, it seems to me that a lot of the traffic is caused by 3 factors – non-commuter drivers, freight and bad bridge design.
Non-commuter drivers – given that the economy is terrible, morning traffic is substantially lighter than it used to be. The backup that used to start at Main Street (3 miles north of the bridge) now starts at Jantzen Beach. The afternoon back up is as bad as ever. This tells me that a there are a lot of non-commuting cars on the freeway in the afternoon. If those cars were off the road (I’m not saying they should be, just what would happen if) then traffic would be much lighter.
Freight – There tends to be more freight in the afternoon. When I-5 was shut in Centralia due to flooding, the amount of freight dropped substantially and the traffic was a breeze in the afternoon. Trucks also are slow to start and stop and leave a large amount of space in front of them, which causes traffic to move more slowly.
Bad Bridge Design – the current bridge has very narrow lanes with no shoulder and has a hump in the middle of the bridge that adversely affects the sight-line of drivers. These factors cause traffic to slow down, which contributes to the back-up.
As far as a solution – well, a new bridge would definitely remove the design problems. Tolls during rush hour would help alleviate the non-commuter traffic. I’m not sure what to do about the freight as it will probably always be there. If there’s no northbound tolls (which sounds somewhat likely), then the afternoon non-commuter problem will likely remain.
You cite the presence of freight trucks on I-5 as a cause of “traffic” (i.e) congestion. I too would like to see much more freight move by rail; trucks are dangerous. However I think the usage of trucks will increase, even if rail usage increases, because of long term projections for growth and because the trucking lobby won’t go away and because trucks are essential in local delivery. Especially during economically prosperous times there is more freight movement; that is called, in investing, the Dow Theory.
Therefore we will never get rid of the high number of trucks on the I-5 route. The best we can do is provide one more route so that they don’t have to use I-5. This route could connect the Washington side of I-5 to Portland’s most rapidly growing area–Washington County.
You also cite “bad bridge design.” Commuters headed north in the afternoon, away from Portland, seldom encounter congestion on the I-5 bridge itself; once you get to the actual bridge traffic flows pretty well. The northbound congestion occurs in Portland because major east-west arterials in N and NE Portland have no other interstate route to use—except way out east to I-205. My opinion is that the present bridges, during most hours, do a commendable job of moving traffic. Sure, they could be better but why waste perfectly fine structures? The bridge lift times are, at present regulated, and can be regulated further to produce a more efficient flow of commuting traffic. There simply is precious little evidence that the lane sizes “cause traffic to slow down.” This is misinformation drummed up by proponents of replacing the I-5 bridges–and is refuted in the CRC DEIS.
Some officials would like to discourage Washington residents from commuting to employment in Oregon. However, our state derives considerable revenue, as you are aware, from such commuters. So the construction of a new mega bridge would cause two problems: The cost of tolls and the diminishment of revenue for Oregon. Oregon is already on the verge of implementing other expensive repairs to the overburdened I-5 system. A big, new bridge will burden it further, creating more projects to try to find funding for.
Not sure the CRC will get that much federal money regardless. Remove local traffic, offer a real HCT option and toll, then the existing freeway will operate very well. Maybe lower the speed limit to 45mph to increase thru put even more. Last time I was in downtown Vancouver the streets…which are extra wide…were virtually empty. They could use more traffic.
The Oregonian is just stabbing in the dark once again, with a needlessly long-winded and generally pointless editorial, no doubt hoping to win some sort of favor by endlessly jabbering on in support of another $5 billion waste of money.
One-way tolling minimizes backups, and you charge double knowing people have to come home eventually.
I think my point is that we won’t be able to use congestion pricing to encourage off-peak travel in the afternoon, like we will in the morning. This might be a problem, since one of the purposes of the toll is to give folks some congestion relief by putting a realistic price on that peak-hour trip.
One-way tolling is advantageous if most motorists will be stopping to drop quarters in the bucket. With electronic toll collection; there is less advantage.
Actually, I like the system used in many locales. If you have a transponder in your car, then toll collection is quick and painless. Otherwise, your license plate is photographed, and you are sent a bill. (Passing the tollbooth without a transponder isn’t considered a violation).
Unpaid tolls are dealt with similarily to unpaid parking tickets, and perhaps a discount applies to users with transponders.
With modern technology, there is no reason that drivers on a freeway should ever have to stop at a tollbooth–unless you’re a transit advocate who sees tollbooths, and the congestion they cause, as a means to encourage less driving. :)
Ron Swaren’s assessment of northbound peak congestion is reasonably accurate; however there are other contributing factors. The primary one is the presence of the HOV lane. It is a bias political statement rather something that addresses the efficient flow of traffic. Functionally it creates more congestion than it relieves. Crossover traffic to and from the HOV lane using the entrances and exits along the North Portland stretch of I-5 create unnecessary stop and go traffic in the other two lanes. That is intensified with semi-trucks that take longer to start moving after being stopped. Vehicle capacity was actually reduced when an existing full service lane stolen away and replaced with a restricted HOV lane.
Additionally, other northbound problems that add to congestion are the lack of a modern freeway entrance from Hayden Island that does not have an acceleration lane, and the numerous northbound roads and freeway entrances that all come together just in the Delta Park area. The latter was in part what Ron was in part referring to.
Southbound, the major problem that creates congestion is the two lane segment of the freeway also in the Delta Park area that is now being widened.
Terry Parker Says: Ron Swaren’s assessment of northbound peak congestion is reasonably accurate; however there are other contributing factors. The primary one is the presence of the HOV lane. It is a bias political statement rather something that addresses the efficient flow of traffic. Functionally it creates more congestion than it relieves. Crossover traffic to and from the HOV lane using the entrances and exits along the North Portland stretch of I-5 create unnecessary stop and go traffic in the other two lanes. That is intensified with semi-trucks that take longer to start moving after being stopped. Vehicle capacity was actually reduced when an existing full service lane stolen away and replaced with a restricted HOV lane.
The HOV lane on I-405 east of Lake Washington disproves your claim that it’s “political bias” and nothing more. The system works very well there, primarily because the HOV lane is incorporated with on- and off-ramps. It isn’t the concept that is at fault in Portland, but the execution, and it can certainly be incorporated into any future construction.
Otherwise, your license plate is photographed, and you are sent a bill. (Passing the tollbooth without a transponder isn’t considered a violation).
I’m a bigger fan of the method used on CA-73, where the road splits so if you have a transponder you can go through at 65 mph, if you don’t you stop and pay the toll.
That and a common trick around Orange County was to delay getting plates as long as possible. It was possible to get up to a year of extensions after buying a car, so you could just blow through the FastTrak system and never end up paying. We definitely should re-think our vehicle registration system if we do go the route of tolling like this.
That, and it’s difficult to bill out of state users. I don’t know of any bi-state crossing that allows for tollbooth-free operation. I’m not sure how the billing thing would really work out.
The system I was describing is used, I believe, on Ontario Provincial Highway 407, a toll freeway which bypasses Toronto. It uses a combination of transponder and camera technology to assess tolls; and transponderless vehicles are simply sent a bill.
The system I was describing is used, I believe, on Ontario Provincial Highway 407, a toll freeway which bypasses Toronto.
Having grown up in Buffalo, NY I remember that road well. We always tried to have my friends from MA drive up to Toronto instead of someone from NY so that we could just blow the tolls rather than have to deal with a bill in the mail later. NY and other states participated, but MA told ONT to shove it if they wanted driver info. (At least, this was accurate from 1998-2001 or so.)
Actually the northbound HOV lane carries almost as many people as the two general purpose lanes; should we not measure transportation effectiveness by number of people moved, not number of vehicles? We need more HOV lanes, not fewer. HOV lanes can shift to Freight Only in non-peak hours or 20 hours/day.