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It could be toll time for Interstate 5 drivers

Fee to cross Columbia also is suggested for Glenn Jackson bridge

Drivers must be required to pay tolls to cross the Interstate 5 replacement bridge being considered between Portland and Vancouver, Wash. - and tolls may need to be imposed on the existing Interstate 205 bridge, too.

That was one message that the staff of the Columbia River Crossing task force, which is studying the issue, delivered to the Metro Council on Tuesday afternoon.

The presentation was the first public airing of the staff recommendations that included replacing the existing bridges with a large span that would also carry a yet-to-be-determined mix of light-rail trains and express buses.

Although exact costs are not yet known, lead task force consultant Jay Lyman predicted such a bridge and related freeway interchange improvements could cost more than $2 billion, requiring that drivers pay tolls to help pay for it.

Lyman said tolls may also need to be imposed on the I-205 bridge, known as the Glenn L. Jackson Memorial Bridge, to discourage drivers from using it to avoid the tolls on the new bridge.

Although Metro has not yet taken a formal position on the recommendations, Councilor Robert Liberty seemed to doubt whether such an expensive project was justified.

He peppered Lyman and deputy project manager Kris Strickland with questions about other options rejected by the staff, including such potentially cheaper alternatives as building a smaller supplemental bridge to carry transit and drivers traveling between the two cities.

Lyman and Strickland repeatedly replied that a supplemental bridge would not reduce traffic enough to ease the congestion that is expected to increase as 1 million more people move to the region over the next two decades. They also said a supplemental bridge would need a lift span - like the existing I-5 bridge - to allow river traffic to move under it.

Bridge lifts currently increase congestion by bringing all traffic to a stop. TriMet has told the task force it does not want to operate transit service across a lift bridge. The replacement bridge could be built high enough over the water that no lift span would be necessary.

Lyman said preliminary studies have shown that tolls could pay for most or all of the project, but added that more work is under way on the issue and promised to report the results to Metro by next month.

In the meantime, a free public forum called 'Is tolling in our future?' is scheduled from 12:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday in E.B. Hamilton Hall at the Historic Reserve, 605 Barnes Road, in Vancouver, Wash.

It is hosted by the Portland Business Alliance and Identity Clark County, two business groups pushing for more freight capacity over the Columbia River. It will feature a panel discussion of potential ways of collecting the tolls, including high-tech billing devices.

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