Last week, an email State Sen. Lee Beyer (D-Springfield) sent to Washington State Sen. Ann Rivers (R-La Center) made headlines, because Beyer, the chairman of the Senate's Business and Transportation Committee and the co-chairman of the interim Columbia River Crossing oversight committee told Rivers in a Jan. 17 email "my guess is the bridge issue is dead in our state for the next decade or two."
That email, first reported by The Columbian, was a bombshell. It came on the heels of a Jan. 14 interim legilsative hearing on the proposed $2.8 billion Oregon-only version of the bridge project. At that hearing, Oregon Department of Transportation officials and consultants attempted to answer many outstanding questions about the project.
Chief among those questions is how Oregon would collect tolls from Washington drivers, who make up two-thirds of the traffic over the I-5 bridge. ODOT earlier admitted there's currently no legal mechanism for Oregon to collect unpaid tolls from Washington drivers. That's a potentially fatal challenge to the project, because tolling revenues account for more than $1 billion of the CRC's cost.
What has not yet been reported is the second half of Beyer's email (emphasis added).
Rivers says she does not think that Oregon's immobilizing Washingtonians vehicles to help pay for a project the Washington Legislature rejected last July is a good idea. If they did so while the vehicles were parked in Oregon, Rivers says, Oregon officials might be able to get away with it. But she's not in favor of such a policy.
Senator Rivers:First let me say I am doubtful that the CRC will make it to a vote in February. Having worked on this issue as the Committee chair for a few years now, it is my belief that Oregon is done with the bridge issue and we can just hope we don't have an earthquake or that accidents do not get too bad. My guess is the bridge issue is dead in our state for the next decade or two. Personally, I am shifting my attention to other transportation issues
Having said that, what our AG has told us is that there would be ways for Oregon to assess tolls without additional action by the state of Washington; certainly it would be easier to do so in a cooperative partnership. One way to think of this is it could operate like a traditional parking ticket program wherein a person who chooses not to pay their mailed ticket could have their car booted. While this would not work easily for infrequent travelers, it would for commuters who work in Oregon. Let me stress this is not something currently on the table in Oregon.
Wishing you a successful 2014 legislative session; respectfully,