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Washington subcommittee contemplates toll rates for new I-5 bridge

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(The Center Square) – Last year, the Washington State Legislature enacted a bill authorizing tolling on the existing Interstate 5 bridge between Vancouver and Portland to fund its replacement. A recently formed bi-state subcommittee is now looking at how the tolling will be done, and what the rates will be.

Tolling is expected to start in 2026 and continue through 2033, when traffic is switched over to the replacement bridge. In contrast with other tolling systems in Washington state such as the Interstate 405 corridor between Bellevue and Lynnwood that’s intended to address traffic congestion, the tolling on the I-5 bridge is intended to pay for the new bridge and must collect at least $1 billion annually.

Tolling is just one of several funding sources for the bridge – about 20%. Tolling is expected to provide traffic management and vital funding for the project as well as cover ongoing maintenance costs for the bridge and tolling operations.

The Tacoma Narrows Bridge toll only applies to east-bound traffic and remains consistent, while both directions on I-5 bridge will be tolled; however, most of the traffic is expected to come from commuters driving from Washington into Oregon, a point some opponents of tolling noted before the Legislature authorized tolling.

The toll rates will also have to account for nearby bridges that may not be tolled and could experience increased traffic as a result.

Under the various scenarios being considered by the Bi-State Tolling Subcommittee, drivers could pay as much as $3.55 or as little as $1.50 per crossing. Under one scenario, the rates would go up for peak morning (6 a.m. to 9 a.m.) and afternoon traffic (3 p.m. to 6 p.m.) based on estimated number of vehicle crossings. Truckers would have to pay either twice or four times the regular tolling amount. The toll would increase annually by 2.15% to keep up with inflation. The Bi-State Bridge Replacement program is also developing a discount toll rate for drivers, ranging from 50% to 100% discount, though an analysis found that discounts between 50-75% “would have a have relatively small impact on traffic and revenue because a discount will attract low-income drivers back to using the toll facility.”

Tolling was one of the most controversial aspects of the Columbia River Crossing, which would have replaced the I-5 bridge. The effort failed in 2014 due to pushback by several southwestern Washington legislators, and it would be four years before the Washington State Legislature would approve the creation of joint Oregon-Washington action committee.

The finalized toll rates will be decided by both WSTC and the Oregon State Transportation Commission, which formed the subcommittee earlier this year. They are expected to vote on toll rates in fall 2025.

The subcommittee’s next meeting is April 19.

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