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Troutdale should rethink bridge fee

Multnomah County's hopes for a local vehicle-registration fee to help pay for replacing the deteriorating Sellwood Bridge have hit a pocket of resistance in Troutdale.

County Chairman Ted Wheeler has been working - as required by state law - to earn endorsements from all 11 cities or other jurisdictions that overlap with Multnomah County as he seeks to put the proposed fee on the May ballot.

But after two trips to Troutdale, county officials still haven't persuaded the City Council there to support a $15 to $27 per year fee that primarily would be used to replace the aging Sellwood Bridge.

Gresham, Wood Village and Fairview have been much more receptive than Troutdale to the proposal. That's probably because they recognize that, after years of fighting with county government, East County is making better headway on local priorities by working with, not against, county officials.

For those same reasons, Troutdale ought to reconsider its position. Wheeler isn't asking the City Council to inflict harm upon its constituents or to accept something that would be detrimental to the community.

Rather, he is giving Troutdale - and all the other jurisdictions - a chance to cooperate in solving a regional transportation problem that goes well beyond a given city's boundaries. This same collaborative approach was behind the recent county decision to build a justice center in Gresham, and Wheeler certainly has been a strong supporter of the coming county library in Troutdale.

Tolling is the larger solution

At present, soliciting countywide cooperation is the only avenue available to Wheeler as he tries to meet his obligation to fix a major bridge problem he inherited from previous county administrations. The vehicle-registration fee is needed now for the Sellwood Bridge, but the fee will be insufficient to fix every Multnomah County bridge that crosses the Willamette River.

The eventual answer to this region's bridge troubles is to charge tolls to everyone who uses the bridges. That will put the burden for upkeep of the bridges on the people who actually benefit from them.

For some reason, the Legislature has prevented Multnomah County from implementing tolls. That's a law that must be changed if all Willamette River bridges are ever going to be brought up to modern standards.