Monday, July 27, 2009

How to Pay for a New Bridge without Breaking the Backs of Vancouver's Working Class

As the Vancouver mayoral race heats up, it's tolls, tolls, tolls that are making headlines the most. I'm receiving a lot of e-mail from people who are thankful that at least one of their City officials is standing up against the burden of tolls. I'm also receiving questions about specifics-- "ok, you're against tolls -- so how do we pay for the bridge?"

This is a good question, and one I'm happy to answer.

Our current leadership has failed to create good, new jobs locally--forcing our citizens to cross the river to earn a decent wage, for the dubious privilege of paying Oregon income tax. And now, after this failure, that same incumbent leadership is saying that we need to just "accept it," and "get over it." and prepare to pay tolls.

I submit that tolls are not a foregone conclusion, and this project can be done without detrimental financial impact to our hard-working families, employers or seniors on fixed incomes.

Simple answer: The project can be constructed with little to no local financial burden, if it is phased and/or reduced in size.

Detailed answer:

The estimated cost for the bridge, light rail and reconstruction of 7 interchanges is $4 billion.

Bridge: Estimated Cost = $1.5 billion. Who to pay = Federal Government.

Reconstructing the bridge (and immediate interchanges on either side of the river) is a federal responsibility -- that Interstate asset belongs to them.

You might recall that the Interstate 205 bridge was constructed with 90% financing from the Feds, and 10% financing from the States of Oregon and Washington. Why? Because bridges are mega projects and the feds recognize the need to be larger partners -- as keepers of the interstate highway system.

Light Rail Transit: Estimated Cost = $1 billion. Who to pay = Federal Government and States.

The Federal Transit Agency has told us they have $750 million in waiting to extend LRT into Clark County with this project. Perfect! City of Portland and Tri-Met have demanded (and need) LRT into Clark County, in order to further their mission of extending LRT throughout the communities south of the river. Our CTRAN Board agreed to the extension of LRT into Clark County, with the $750 million from the Feds, AND a vote by our citizens on the operating costs (increase in sales tax of 1 penny on $10). The remaining $250 million should come from the States -- particularly Oregon, given their demands for LRT into Clark County.

Interchanges: Estimated Cost: $1.5 billion. Who to pay = State, Local, Federal.

Historically, highway interchanges have been completed by our State Departments of Transportation, in financial partnership with local and federal monies. This is where I recommend we phase the project to "pay as you go". Both States must develop a long-range finance and priorities plan, to improve the interchanges over the next 20 years. When the revenues are available, then the interchange projects move forward.

Pollard, Gregoire and the others supporting them are advocating to use a 'credit card', in the form of tolls on BOTH the I-5 and I-205 bridges, to pay for all these improvements and get all of the construction underway now. In our current credit crisis, we've seen how well that kind of leadership plays out.

I submit that we absolutely MUST push for increased federal and state participation, and make a concerted effort to determine how this project can be appropriately scaled and phased to assure that we pay for it with real dollars, not our grandchildren's dollars!

1 comment:

Kim Luttrell said...

Coming from a working-class family with one working in Oregon and the other working in Vancouver, I can tell you that a toll would quite literally crush us. Not to mention that the casual visitor to Portland (primarily Jantzen Beach)would find this daunting in the least. I think a light rail extension would not only help with traffic, but with our efforts for a "greener" commute. I shop most in Vancouver, trying to frequent locally owned as often as possible, but it is nice to keep Oregon as an option. I would think it should be considered a partnership between states. Maybe I'm too optimistic, but does it really have to be "Us vs. Them?"
Making Vancouver more accessible might encourage Portlanders to come over to what they often consider as a "sleepy little burrow." Our town has much to offer, let's open the doors.
Thank you, Tim, for taking our needs as a whole community into consideration. That's why you have my support.
Kim Luttrell Vancouver resident since 1978