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

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