Tolls on existing I-5 bridge will help pay for the new span linking Oregon and Washington

Tens of thousands of people use the Interstate 5 bridge every day. (Photo courtesy of Interstate Bridge Replacement Program)

When construction starts on a new Interstate 5 bridge across the Columbia River in early 2026, drivers will begin paying tolls on the existing span between Washington and Oregon.

That’s the plan.

Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama wanted to know Tuesday whether tolling would proceed if construction is delayed. There’s no answer yet, he learned at a legislative committee hearing.

“A lot of people are upset now. They are not used to tolling. It’s going to be a new experience,” he said following the meeting of the Joint Transportation Committee, a bipartisan and bicameral panel. “Imagine what they will feel like if they are paying tolls a lot longer without getting anything for them.”

Tolling in both directions on the existing bridge will be one of the first things the public experiences when the massive construction project gets underway. It is also a critical source of funding to help cover the cost of the project, which could range from $5 billion to $7.5 billion.

Federal dollars and contributions from Oregon and Washington will cover a large share. Tolls are counted on to raise $1.2 billion for construction plus provide an ongoing stream of revenue for bridge maintenance and operations.

Toll rates will be set jointly by members of Oregon and Washington transportation commissions. They’ll work off recommendations from a subcommittee composed of two commissioners from each state.

Several possible rate scenarios are under review. These have one-way rates ranging from $1.50 to $3.55 with higher prices during peak travel times. Washington will oversee toll operations and drivers will pay through the Washington State Department of Transportation Good to Go! electronic toll system. There will be no toll booths.

Washington State Transportation Commission officials said collections will operate much like they do on the Highway 520 bridge between Seattle and Bellevue.

Subcommittee members will be meeting monthly, in public, to narrow the options by this winter and deliver recommendations to the state commissions by the Spring of 2025. Commission members are supposed to settle on a path by mid- to late-2025 to give enough time to implement the rates by early 2026.

Work is already underway in areas like environmental evaluation and design. Once rolling, construction is expected to last until at least 2032.

Orcutt, a member of the Joint Transportation Committee, asked in the hearing what happens if bridge construction is delayed. Will toll collection planned prior to the new span’s opening – known as the pre-completion tolling period – be pushed back as well or not?

That’s a question to be answered farther along in the process when more is known on costs and construction, he was told.

Sen. Marko Liias, D-Edmonds, chair of the legislative committee, acknowledged drivers may be frustrated paying to travel on an old bridge any longer than required. Those dollars will be used to pay off bonds issued for construction, he said. Employing tolls on the current timeline, he said, will help avert higher toll rates to cover financing charges.

Correction: This story was updated to show Washington, not Oregon, will oversee toll operations.

— By Jerry Cornfield, Washington State Standard

Washington State Standard is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Washington State Standard maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Bill Lucia for questions: info@washingtonstatestandard.com. Follow Washington State Standard on Facebook and Twitter.

  1. Those politicians are a mix of parasites, robbers and locusts. Impressive how they keep adding taxes, fees, tolls and then increasing them without anything to show except ineptitude and corruption.

  2. Maybe “those [elected] politicians” face an extremely difficult job in funding the replacement of a vital, but aging, bridge. Could it be that they’re just doing a necessary job as best they can? It will be expensive – that’s unavoidable. But perhaps you have a better plan? From what you say, there clearly must be a very simple, cheap solution.

    1. There are many solutions. However, the most effective is stopping squandering and plundering the State’s resources in their self-interest. One example is the homeless they attract to the state and then spent the taxpayer money in a problem they created. Same with illegals. Billions disappear in an industry they created to fund themselves and their minions.

      The 520 bridge is an example of a toll that was created out “necessity to fund the new bridge”, which need was doubtful, and the toll became permanent. 405 is another one where a toll was imposed when taxpayers already fund the maintenance of state roads. The list can keep going. This state already charges one of the highest gas taxes in the nation.

      So, no, their excuses do not work anymore. Those grifters are completely out of control. That joke about bridges and politicians apply really well to those individuals.

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