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Tolls for new I-5 bridge planned to begin on existing bridge during construction

An earlier financial estimate assumed tolling would start once the replacement bridge was open, but the latest plan switches to "pre-completion" tolls.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Drivers who have been dreading the arrival of tolls on the planned replacement for the Interstate Bridge may have to start paying up to cross the Columbia River even sooner than they feared.

The project's latest cost estimate hinted at a detail that the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program office later confirmed: The program's financial plan now includes revenue from "pre-completion" tolling, meaning tolls collected on the existing twin bridges while their replacement is still under construction.

That's a change from an earlier conceptual finance plan released in 2020, which assumed the tolls would start being collected on the new bridge after it was up and running. 

The older plan was calculated by taking the expected cost of the failed Columbia River Crossing project and adjusting it for inflation through 2020. It estimated the cost of the project to be about $4 billion, and it said tolling revenue would bring in between $850 million and $1.3 billion.

The latest estimate is based on the new project's design, and it accounts for the unexpectedly punishing rate of inflation since 2020, resulting in a new projected cost of about $6 billion. But it also raises the projected tolling revenue to a new range of between $1.25 billion and $1.6 billion.

That's about $300 million in new tolling revenue, but according to IBR Program Administrator Greg Johnson, the current toll rates haven't changed from 2020 — in an interview with KGW on Thursday, he said the old estimate and the new estimate both use the planned CRC tolls of $2-4 as a placeholder.

The explanation for the discrepancy is the timing of the tolls. The 2020 plan assumes tolling won't start until the new bridge is finished, but it also notes that if tolling were to start on the old bridge while the new one is under construction, it would bring in up to $300 million more revenue.

When asked about the change, the IBR project office confirmed that the current financial plan assumes pre-completion tolling, and that the new toll revenue projection incorporates the additional money brought in by those tolls.

The office said it is currently still working on a tolling traffic and revenue analysis, and anticipates having more details on possible project revenue sources by the end of the first quarter of the year.

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