Tuesday 1 November 2011

Fear that tolling Columbia River Crossing will result in excessive diversion

CRC in blue adjacent to I-5, I-205 is upstream on the right
The news of the 50% reduction in traffic expected on SR 520 in Seattle from tolls has caused concerns in Oregon that the proposed tolled Columbia River Crossing project (which will replace the current over 95 year old "bridge lift" equipped bridge that forms Interstate 5 connecting Oregon with Washington) will suffer a major diversion of traffic to Interstate 205's Glenn L. Jackson Memorial Bridge some 6 miles upstream. 
The Columbian reports some concerns that estimates of toll revenue (neither route is currently tolled) are excessive and cites the expected 50% diversion in Seattle as likely for Oregon.   It claims the 2009 toll study only predicted diversion of less than 10% by 2030.

The bridge is estimated to cost between US$3.1 and $3.5 billion (including a light rail extension), with about a third coming from tolls, a third from the Federal Government and the rest from both Washington and Oregon State Governments.

Tolls are to be electronic free flow using DSRC and ANPR, with peak congestion based charges.  Curiously it has a break down of revenue and expenditure (although toll rates are not defined yet) of:
91% revenue from tolls, 9% from surcharges on ANPR based transactions.

69% of expenditure is to be available to service debt on the bridge, 23% pays for toll collection costs and systems maintenance, 5% are "uncollectable tolls" (written off), 3% paying credit card fees and 1% for operations and maintenance of the bridge.

It appears to be a very high cost of collection, something that ought to be seriously reduced over time. I'd hope that 26% toll collection costs should easily be half that within 3-5 years.

However, it will be fair to assume that there will be substantial diversion in the initial years.   What it will take to minimise this is for tolls to be at lower prices initially whilst accounts are opened up and people get used to free flow tolling when neither state has much experience of it (and people in Portland are to be expected to become familiar with it).  The effort taken on the customer service end for the first year will be well worthwhile.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting story. Of note, though, is that Washington Treasurer McIntire doesn't support starting tolls artificially low because it's so politically hard to raise them.

    The main concern that keeps coming up about tolls lowering traffic counts is about paying toll bonds due to less traffic, and that's real, but we should be happy about lower traffic count to the extent that it's not about diversion. So let's Figure out how to toll both, and then design and size a facility appropriately to that lower count. The huge cost here isn't the bridge, it's five miles of massive freeway interchanges. The goal here is also not to encourage the traffic, but to manage it.