CRC Tolling Analysis Demonstrates Huge Risks for Oregon

A new analysis of the effects of tolls on a new Columbia River Crossing between Oregon and Washington clearly illustrate the severe financial risks to Oregon from a go-it-alone project.

Willamette Week reports on the new analysis from economist Joe Cortright, which is based on previously unreleased projections by a CRC contractor:

Plans for tolling Interstate 5 at the CRC will cause Interstate 205 to reach capacity. Meanwhile, traffic on Interstate 5 will plummet to half that originally predicted by state officials. State officials were counting on higher traffic counts—and the tolls drivers would pay—to cover the costs of the $2.8 billion project.

The projections were made by CDM Smith—the company the CRC hired to perform an investment grade analysis on tolls—but were previously not disclosed by the CRC to state legislators or the media, despite a number of public records requests.

"Here’s what the world looks like after the new bridge opens: 87,000 cars a day are using the brand-new 12 lane bridge, while over 200,000 cars are using the I-205 bridge," says Cortright.

As WW reports, maxing out I-205 is a problem in itself, and will spread to other area roads, like Interstate 84 and Washington State Route 14. Such congestion will have major consequences for regional mobility and for air quality and health in East Portland.

But a top concern is what the new projections will mean for toll revenues collected on the new I-5 bridge, which will be far lower than the $1.3 billion promoters say they need to raise for the CRC's financing plan.

If Oregon does indeed go it along on the CRC freeway and bridge project, this means a lot more risk for Oregon taxpayers, and a much bigger hole to fill from Oregon budgets.

This risk is a key reason 1000 Friends, the Coalition for a Livable Future, and nine other organizational partners co-signed a letter to Oregon leaders earlier in September, urging them to drop the go-it-alone CRC proposal and begin seeking more workable regional transportation solutions. Read that letter here.

As the Legislature prepares for a special session September 30, we will be watching to make sure a risky go-it-alone CRC remains off the table.

Read Joe Cortright's full 12-page analysis here, via Willamette Week.