Washington Sen. Patty Murray, who helps control transportation funding in Congress, on Friday made it clear she wants her state to have a role in shaping tolls in the Portland region.
Murry told Oregon Gov. Kate Brown in a letter that she wants both the Washington State Department of Transportation and the city of Vancouver to be voting members of the advisory committee for implementing congestion pricing in the region.
The Democratic senator’s action comes after GOP Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler of southwest Washington has pursued legislation to block tolls. Herrera Beutler said she fears tolls on Portland-area freeways could unfairly hit Clark County commuters.
Brown’s communications director, Chris Pair, said Brown didn’t have any immediate comment on Murray’s request.
“The letter has been received and we’re evaluating the recommendation,” he said.
There was also no immediate response from Herrera Beutler’s office.
Though Oregon sees toll roads as a potential way of dealing with Portland’s increasingly clogged highways, Brown may accede to Murray’s request.
Besides being the third-ranking senator in the Democratic leadership, Murray is a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and sits on the transportation subcommittee. Oregon needs federal permission to proceed with tolls on interstate freeways.
The Washington transportation department and Clark County have already been invited to sit with the advisory committee, but do not currently have voting rights.
Earlier this year, the Oregon Legislature passed a bill that calls for setting up tolls in the Portland area. The approach is being increasingly adopted in states around the country, including in Washington and California. In the Seattle area, for example, commuters pay between 75 cents and $10 to use a toll lane on Interstate 405, depending on the level of congestion on the road.
It’s unclear what kind of program Oregon would adopt, but the transportation bill approved by the Legislature explicitly calls for reviewing tolls on I-5 and I-205.
The transportation bill also includes funds to move forward on a controversial freeway improvement project on I-5 at Portland’s Rose Quarter and a project to widen I-205 on a seven-mile stretch from Oregon City to the Stafford Road exit.
Murray said in her letter that she wanted also wanted development of tolls to include renewed discussion about putting a new I-5 bridge over the Columbia River.
A massive project to build a new bridge across the river — including light rail — collapsed in 2013 after opponents killed funding for it in the Washington Legislature.
Some $175 million was spent before the Columbia River Crossing fell apart.