August 18th, 2010 | Published in Northwest
Funding and Tolls
Although the number most commonly tossed around is $3.6 billion, the IRP found that nailing down the final price tag for the CRC is too difficult at this juncture, considering all the recent revisions to the project. Whatever it ends up costing, it’s going to be expensive. So the question for right now is: How do we pay for this?
According to the IRP, the CRC finance plan includes the typical funding streams for a massive transit project, such as the Federal Transit Administration’s New Starts program, the Projects of National Significance grant, and whatever money the transportation departments of Oregon and Washington can obtain via legislation. Even if the CRC receives the maximum payout from those sources – something the IRP says is hard to predict, particularly when it comes to the $750 million to $850 million the CRC hopes to get from the respective states – a gap will remain.
That’s where tolls come in. Although it’s a highly contentious issue in an area where there is no recent history of tolling, the IRP report calls implementation of tolls “essential to the viability of the suggested plan.” Exactly how it would work is still a matter of debate, although planners have indicated the likely scenario would involve rates of about $2 to $3, adjustable for peak traffic hours. In July, Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt – who campaigned on an anti-toll platform – proposed tolling on the I-5 corridor rather than just at the bridge as a means to “spread the pain,” since more Clark County residents commute into Multnomah County for work than vice-versa. Any sort of final statement on tolling will have to wait until the completion of the final environmental impact study.
Meanwhile, another financial problem has recently reared its head. Funding for the CRC’s light rail component – which would extend from Portland’s Expo Center to downtown Vancouver, ending at Clark College – is expected to be paid by C-Tran, Vancouver’s transit authority. The estimated $2 million to $3 million is to come from a one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax increase in Clark County. A public vote on the increase was to be bundled together with other transit improvements next year. But now, C-Tran’s board of directors is leaning toward making the tax hike a separate issue on the November 2011 ballot. And given the failed history of light rail in the county (voters shot down a proposal in 1995), that might mean the CRC will have to find another source of money. As the IRP points out, light rail is an inextricable part of the CRC, and “one won’t be built without the other.”