Legislation allowing tolling to support the replacement of the aging Interstate 5 bridge over the Columbia River received Gov. Jay Inslee’s signature last week, though any fees aren’t expected to be collected until 2026.
On May 9, Inslee signed Senate Bill 5765, which authorizes tolling along the bridge in order to fund the replacement project. Tolling is expected to be a major funding source for the project, which is estimated to run from $5 billion to $7.5 billion.
Following the signing, Democratic Vancouver state Sen. Annette Cleveland made a statement alongside primary sponsor Sen. Marko Liias, D-Everett, announcing the passage of the bill into law.
“Tolls helped pay for the bridge that stands today, and tolls will be what helps achieve our goal of replacing it,” Cleveland, a secondary sponsor for the bill, said. “Tolling provides a fair and equitable way to fund this essential project, which in turn ensures its long-term viability for future generations.”
The release from the Washington Senate Democrats noted the bill does not set tolling rates, nor does it give a date for when tolls will go into effect.
Tolls are expected to have a variable rate, Frank Green, assistant program administrator of the Interstate Bridge Replacement program (IBRP), said in an email. The IBRP kicked off in 2020 and has been laying the groundwork for project scope, cost and timeline in the leadup before an anticipated groundbreaking in late 2025.
Green said SB 5765’s passage “is an important demonstration of support for the bi-state effort to replace the aging Interstate Bridge across the Columbia River on Interstate 5.”
He likened tolling as one of three legs on a stool to support the project, alongside state and federal funding. Washington already OKed $1 billion in funding last year, and Oregon’s legislature is currently in discussion about matching those funds.
Green said having the state and tolling funds in place will demonstrate the local commitment, which will help the project’s competitiveness for federal grants. The IBRP missed out on a $750 million federal grant earlier this year, though project administration believes the projects that did get funding were farther along in their development.
A financial plan for the project released this year assumed $1.24 billion will come from tolling, Green said. That plan includes variable rates of $1.50 to $3.55 for the first year of the toll, with prices based on the time of day.
“The toll scenarios in this analysis are used for study purposes only to inform financial planning, and do not represent final rates,” Green said in the email.
Washington and Oregon’s respective transportation commissions have authority to set toll rates in their states, and their departments of transportation implement the toll policies on state facilities, Green said. The IBRP will look closer at tolling and revenue this year with input from those transportation commissions, looking at a number of scenarios to see what their effects will be. Following that, a final toll traffic and revenue analysis will be published prior to the start of tolling.
“This report will include rigorous independent forecasts to inform the program’s investors and lenders and will support formal rate setting by the transportation commissions,” Green said. He noted a low-income toll program will be considered in the upcoming analysis.
Tolling won’t begin on the bridge until 2026, Green said. Toll rate adoption isn’t expected until six to eight months before then.
Southwest Washington Republicans in the state Legislature opposed SB 5765. Eighteenth Legislative District Representatives offered a number of amendments, including an exemption for Washington residents who pay Oregon income taxes. That amendment, brought forth by state Rep. Greg Cheney, R-Battle Ground, did not make it into the final bill.
“Clark County residents have paid about $2.2 billion in Oregon state income taxes over the past 10 years as they commute to Oregon for work,” Cheney said in a joint statement among local Republican legislators last month. “Layering on another form of taxation in the form of tolls is unreasonable and unnecessary.
State Rep. Stephanie McClintock, R-Vancouver, had the only amendments to be approved. One directs toll rates to specifically cover the I-5 Columbia River bridge without subsidizing other Oregon toll facilities. The other requires the rates to not exceed the highest toll rate allowed on any of the other toll facilities in Washington.
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