More than half of Portland drivers and 77 percent of Clark County drivers say they’ll use Interstate 205 to avoid paying tolls on the Columbia River Crossing, a poll released by Seattle Insurance Company PEMCO found.
The poll may confirm what critics and even Oregon Treasurer Ted Wheeler have said: The Interstate 5 megaproject’s tenuous $3.5 billion funding plan may have a big problem.
It also puts an even greater strain on the outdated traffic modeling numbers the CRC is using to justify its plans.
The project—set to replace two aging bridges across the Columbia with twin spans, light rail into Vancouver, a bike and pedestrian bridge, and five miles of interchange improvements—relies on tolling for at least one-third of its funding, with the states and the federal government expected to pony up the rest. It’s not clear how much a toll will cost commuters yet.
PEMCO’s poll, optimistically titled "One in three drivers undeterred by Columbia River Crossing tolls," says that as many as 33 percent of drivers won’t change their habits to dodge tolls, either by driving on I-205, carpooling, moving or riding the bus to get between Portland and Vancouver.
The press release sent by PEMCO seems to slant in favor of the controversial project, with a quote from its spokesperson saying: “We wonder if Clark County drivers might resemble their Washington neighbors to the north who pay tolls to cross State Rout 520 and the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. In the Puget Sound area, we found that although drivers said they intended to change their driving patterns once the 520 tolls took effect, many continued to use the bridge as frequently as before.”
(That’s not entirely true: One in three cars diverted from the 520 bridge to other routes across Lake Washington a study earlier this year found.)
The poll also shows Portland drivers are less toll-averse than their counterparts in the ‘Couve, and that hardly anyone will carpool (12 percent) or ride the bus (9 percent). Light rail wasn’t mentioned.
The results of the poll also must be taken with an eye for sample size. PEMCO got 400 Portland metro area responses and just 52 respondents in Clark County. That's a margin of error of plus or minus 5 points for Portland area residents, and plus or minus 13.9 percent for Clark County.
The PEMCO spokesman, Jon Osterberg, attempts to end the release on a high note.
“With so many drivers saying they'll divert their route, it's likely that I-205 would become congested,” he says. “Perhaps more drivers will choose convenience over savings and end up joining the 33 percent who plan to stay their course despite the toll.”