Border Conflict

A number of the bridges spanning the Columbia River between Washington and Oregon have or did have tolls. The toll booths are/were on the Oregon side, leading to the inescapable conclusion that Washington cannot be trusted with the money.

Not long ago big plans were in the works for the Columbia River Crossing (CRC), a new Interstate 5 bridge traversing the river that separates Vancouver Washington from Portland Oregon. The present bridge is actually two parallel spans known locally as simply the Interstate Bridge. The first bridge dates from 1917; the second opened in 1958.

Residents of Vancouver enjoy lower property taxes than Portland and unlike Oregon, Washington has no income tax. There is sales tax, though, hence the Jantzen Beach shopping mall on the Oregon side of the river, where there is no sales tax. A few miles to the east, a new shopping center anchored by IKEA sits at the Oregon end of the I-205 Glenn Jackson bridge. Unfortunately for Vancouverites, the good jobs are in Portland, so they pay Oregon income tax. They also sit in their cars on gridlocked I-5 at commute times. Commute time has become most of the day.

Cost estimates – always a moving target – for the new CRC were several billion dollars. After several years and $175 million spent on planning and engineering and subsurface testing, the Washington legislature voted in 2013 against any funding for the project. A major objection was including light rail in the project. Vancouver years earlier had blocked the MAX (Metropolitan Area Express) extension across the Columbia. Mass transit would bring undesirables into the white-bread community. They much prefer creeping along I-5. MAX dead-ends on the Oregon side. After some debate, Oregon legislators decided to not pursue the project on its own.

Now southwest Washington is having second thoughts. Governor Jay Inslee is behind a new effort to build a new Columbia River bridge, saying it is a “high priority” for the state. Oregon Governor Kate Brown agrees it’s a good idea, but her state’s higher priority is a statewide transportation plan. Senate President Peter Courtney put it less delicately. “We’ll take care of our backyard,” Courtney said, “and then we’ll decide whether or not there’s a state north of us.”

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