The Oregon Department of Transportation is still hard at work trying to figure out how to pursue an Oregon-only version of the Columbia River Crossing Project.
In a Nov. 4 memo (PDF) to State Treasurer Ted Wheeler, ODOT executive director Matthew Garrett introduced another level of complexity to his agency's task: ODOT, which doesn't currently operate any major tolling operations, would have to build the infrastructure for assessing and collecting the tolls that are the biggest component of funding for the project, which currently has a budget of $2.8 billion.
"A key assumption upon which Oregon's legislature initially approved funding our state's commitment to the project was that Washington would be responsible for toll collection and enforcement," Garrett wrote to Wheeler. "Certain provisions of HB 2800 were expressly tailored to facilitate that arrangement and ensure a flow of toll revenue to meet Oregon's borrowing covenants. The Washington Legislature's failure to pass a revenue package that would have allowed its financial participation in the project necessitates a fundamental change in our approach to toll collection and enforcement. Accordingly, ODOT has pivoted and is diligently pursuing a multi-pronged approach to deter toll violations and minimize toll revenue enforcement."
In his memo, Garrett goes on to explain that developing such a system will cost tens of millions of dollars. That's not surprising, considering the system will have to account for tens of thousands of daily bridge crosssings. The Washington Department of Transportation already has a large and sophisticated tolling system for the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and for SR 520 on Lake Washington.
Garrett's memo also highlights a continuing inconsistency in Oregon's approach to the CRC: lawmakers in February passed a House Bill 2800 funding bill in February that was predicated on Washington also voting to contribute $450 million—and to bring their tolling and project management expertise to the project.
Even though the funding authorized in House Bill 2800 expired Sept. 30, ODOT is marching forward—including trying to build a tolling system for a bridge that ODOT's consultant says is likely to cause massive diversion to the Glenn Jackson Bridge on I-205.