Friday, August 7, 2009

OREGONIAN Editorial Board Out of Touch--Tolls are Unnecessary and Unjust!

On Monday, August 3rd, the Oregonian Editorial Board presented a piece endorsing tolling of a new Interstate 5 bridge. Citing that tolling would help manage congestion and that tolling as a concept is nothing new for the I-5 Bridge, the Editorial Board attempts to justify the tolls as a necessity in order to build a new bridge.


First of all, if the purpose of tolling is to manage congestion, then why build a new bridge at all? Leave the current bridge and unsafe interchanges in place. That alone will 'manage' congestion -- and we'll save $4 billion. If the goal of tolling is to encourage commuters to utilize light rail transit or buses, then why build a new bridge at all? Just build a light rail bridge and extend the rail into Vancouver. Again, keeping the existing bridge will 'manage' congestion. Oh ... wait a minute ... my apologies, these are options that a number of public officials VERY MUCH PREFER!

If the desired purpose of tolling is to push discretionary travel to off-peak hours, thereby freeing up space for freight and commuter travel, then the premise is faulty. I'd like to see someone -- anyone! -- come forward publicly and explain that they CHOOSE to sit in rush hour traffic just for the heck of it. I'm betting there aren't a whole lot of people who pile onto the bridge each morning just to to grab a scone and coffee at a café in downtown Portland.

The presumption that commuters can control their hours of travel -- that thousands of employers in the Portland-Metro Area will allow commuting employees to show their faces at work at 11am to avoid high tolls is PREPOSTEROUS.

The presumption that mothers and fathers can even change their work hours that dramatically, taking into account childcare, parental responsibilities and other life circumstances is PREPOSTEROUS.

The presumption that senior citizens, hard working families, and the lower-income workforce can afford another $1,500 (minimum) in tolling costs each and every year, is PREPOSTEROUS.

The presumption that commuters ought to be willing to sacrifice another 1-1.5 hours of their day to commute on light rail transit or buses, in order to avoid tolls, is PREPOSTEROUS.

I'm envious of those folks who are ardent supporters of tolls, because they have something going that allows them to sock it to the rest of us -- Some have publicly admitted that they have no reason to routinely travel between Washington and Oregon; some are wealthy enough that they can easily afford a $4-6 toll each way during the peak commute; some don't even live in our community and never have to cross the Columbia River; some know the project won't be finished within their lifetime so they won't be around to have to worry about tolls; some are too closed-minded to think creatively about how to accomplish this project without the brunt of tolls on our families and businesses; and frankly, some are just plain out of touch with our community.

I agree with the Oregonian Editorial Board on one point: I am ticked off.

Who is representing the hard-working families and businesses of the Portland-Metro region, and particularly SW Washington? It's certainly not the Oregonian Editorial Board. It's certainly not local elected officials, like Vancouver's current Mayor, Royce Pollard. Nor are a number of other higher-up elected officials. Nor are transplants from the east coast, who proudly proclaim that tolls are a way of life. Tolls may be a given on the other side of the country, but one of the reasons many of us are here in the west coast is because it's NOT like the east coast!

You see, it's quite easy to force an issue onto the public when you don't have to worry about facing that public every day to listen to the hardship and explain why your position just cost jobs, homes and closure of businesses. It's easy to force a matter onto the public when you have only a few months or years left in public office, and then can go into retirement and out of the public eye.

The answer to building this project without tolls is really quite easy, as I've explained before:

#1) Feds step up and build the bridge at their cost. The bridge is a federal asset, and if anything, is a poster project for federal stimulus money. Build the bridge and the two interchanges on either side of the River. Our representatives just found another $2 billion for the Cash for Clunkers program. How about $2 billion for the most important public works project in the Pacific Northwest, if not the entire West Coast of the United States of America? This project is estimated to be in construction for a DECADE, creating thousands of jobs.

#2) Feds have already committed money to build the light rail extension. So build it.

#3) Remaining Cost --- Five interchanges to be improved will occur as money becomes available. Interchanges have generally been more a responsibility of the States and Local, with some support from the Feds. The estimated cost of improving the five interchanges is around $1 billion. Recently, the State of Washington committed some $1 billion to projects in the Seattle/Puget Sound area. As cash flow is available in Oregon and Washington, the interchanges can be improved. The result will be a longer construction period, but we'll only be spending money we have--not borrowing credit that's being paid off on the backs of Vancouver's working class.

And guess what? No tolls necessary.

Let's be creative. Dump the status-quo attitudes and get on with productive business. Some of us are actually invested in the future of this region, and we won't tolerate otherwise.

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