Fund bridges with tolls, not new taxes.

Tolls (not tax, spend and waste) to Fund Bridges
By Anthony Stinton
Cascade Policy Institute

The collapse of the I-35 Bridge and loss of life in Minneapolis is a tragedy that prompts Oregonians to ask, could such a tragedy happen here, and how can we reduce our risk?

The first widespread reaction is to demand that our state and federal legislators appropriate more money for bridges and roads. Oregonians should think twice. Federal, state and local transportation appropriation processes regularly produce pork barrel spending ( read about pork in the 2005 Federal Highway bill) and wasteful projects like the Portland Aerial Tram. A justified second reaction is to ask, is there a better way to fund this infrastructure?

Tolls are one alternative. Tolls align paying for a service with using the service. This is fairer and more efficient. The state could collect tolls on the Willamette and Columbia River bridges to pay for maintenance, improvements and new construction. This is not an untested idea in Oregon: Tolls funded construction of the original Interstate Bridge. Electronic tolling would allow easy collection. The laws authorizing tolls could be written to ensure the tolls are used for bridges, not politicians’ pet projects.

Tolls are a consistent source of revenue that divorce funding for infrastructure from the volatile political process. The alternative is to hope that politicians will fund infrastructure without waste on pet projects. Tolls look better all the time.


Anthony Stinton is a research associate at Cascade Policy Institute, a Portland, Oregon based think tank.

Post to Twitter Post to Facebook Post to LinkedIn Post to Reddit

Posted by at 06:15 | Posted in Measure 37 | 18 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post

    Tolls sound good, I’d be willing to consider them if they were on a ballot…………. once all the road money being spent on light rail is re-designated for roads and bridges.

  • Jeff Caton

    The Oregon and SW Washington economic future is dependent on a sound and balanced transportation infrastructure. Over the past years much has been invested in light rail and other alternatives (such as bike lanes) at the expense of roads and bridges. This has put Oregon and SW Washington at a regional and national economic disadvantage for attracting new business expansion. Policy makers don’t seem willing to address this issue and invest in roads and bridges to accommodate current and future capacity needs. Anthony Stinton’s suggestion to fund the vitally needed road and bridge infrastructure needed through tolls is one that has been successfully used before such as with the I-5 bridge. Perhaps the Oregon and Washington State Treasurers can put together a joint $10 billion revenue bond package, paid back through tolls, to fund the needed 205 west side expansion and third bridge over the Columbia river. Something needs to be done soon for Oregon’s and Washington’s economic future.

    Jeff Caton – Past Oregon State Treasurer Candidate

  • Captain_Anon

    Craw, remember, the vast majority of light rail money comes from the feds, not state or local govs. for every dollar the state and local area put into light rail, the feds put 1.5 to 2 in the pot.

    I’d be interested in tolls. but i think every road should be tolled. and every bridge. and then they should stop collecting the road taxes in gas sales. make every road purely use by fee. burnside would have a certain cost, 217 would, 224 would, I-5 would, 26 would etc. then the drivers of those roads would pay the actual cost for what they use. doesn’t seem like a bad idea to me.


      That sounds good as far as your toll idea but do you really think the politicians would drop the gas tax once the tolls were in place? I doubt they would personally.

      As for the matching money on the light rail, the states portion comes from taxes collected to repair, build and improve roads and bridges, not build light rail. The reason our roads are in the shape they are is the fact that so much of the money for them has been funneled to the light rail.

      I honestly like the light rail but not at the expense of our roads and bridges. Like you and I have to do in our everyday lives………if you can’t afford it, don’t buy it and if you do, don’t ask someone else to pay for it.

  • iop

    If politicians mis-use tax dollars, what garuantee that they will not mis-use toll doallrs?


      The only guranatee is that they “would” misuse the toll money.

  • devietro

    First of all, I am tired of people only focusing on “the issue of the moment” no one was worried about bridges until I-35w. No one was worried about hurricanes until Katrina. Lets stop having ADD when it comes to legislation.

    Second of all I would fully support tolls, as well as fully support Max tickets being priced at the actual per-trip cost. These solutions allow people to pay for services that they use.

  • Jeff

    I don’t care about that 1.5 – 2 from the feds – I’m concerned about that original 1 from the state and local coffers!

    That’s like saying that I’m going to buy a house with mortgage payments of $3000/month when I can’t afford $1000/month – but it’s okay, my parents are paying $1,500 of it….


      I’m pretty sure the issue of the roads and bridges in Oregon has been a common dicussion topic on this site for a long time. At least I remember many articles pertaining to road funding, MAX, Tri-Met etc…

      I think it was within the last 2 years that the state came out with a study that 50% of the bridges in Oregon were in poor shape. Then they found out they had spent the money to repair them and came out with a report saying they were fine…….which is the truth I don’t know.

      I do agree with your “full price” ticket idea………… would be a good eye opener for many people. I also believe they should get rid of fareless square, the downtown people get enough benefits from the other citizen’s of this cities tax money being spent downtown. Of course this is just my opinion.

  • Steve Plunk

    Our good friend devietro has nailed it again. This “issue of the moment” way of setting public policy will waste more money and do little to better our society or make us safer.

    The legislature recently passed a bond measure to repair and replace many of Oregon’s bridges just a few years ago. Of course they overestimated the need and didn’t tell us until after the fact. We don’t need new tolls or taxes for such work. While I do see tolls as an equitable way to finance bridges it is not the time for them.

    Before any changes are made we must first clean up our corrupt Department of Transportation. It is corrupt in not only the money in an envelope way but also institutionally corrupt. That corruption of bureaucratic waste and misguided goals is more costly than the old fashioned graft.

    Change ODOT and then talk money, until then no new taxes or fees.

  • David from Eugene

    Tolls have two problems; first, once imposed they often remain long after the road or bridge is paid for. Second, unless each road segment is accounted for separately the users of one road end up subsidizing other roads. And electronic tolling has some interesting privacy impacts if required and normal toll collection costs if it is not.

    In an ideal world, Gas taxes would only be used to pay for road and bridge repairs and maintenance. New roads and bridges would be paid for by Vehicle registration fees, bonds and General fund money. And Capacity expansion (i.e. road widening) paid for by Vehicle registration fees and SDC charges.

    Unfortunately rather then saving Gas Tax revenues for repair and maintenance we have been spent that revenue on system expansion. And needed maintenance has been repeatedly put off. In some areas to the point that reconstruction rather then repair is required, increasing the cost. But the reality is filling pot holes or resurfacing streets do not provide the opportunity for speeches or brass plaques that a new bridge or road does nor do the look as impressive in legislator’s mailings.

  • Jerry

    The problem with this stupid argument is that no extra money is needed to take care of the bridges. NONE. Just use what you have wisely and quit wasting it on stupid garbage stuff.
    I am fed up with these idiots whose only solution to any problem is more money.
    Send you own in, then, you fool!

    • Anonymous

      me thinks ye knows nothing of money allocation and sources! argh! most monies carry strings attached as to what they may or may not be allocated to, yargh. even if not spent on some project ye hates, the law prevents it from being spent on a project ye loves!

      • CRAWDUDE

        That’s sypposed to be how it is but if you recall just recently the Gov. vetoed 2 attempts by the legislature to take money allocated for other things and bail out OMSI. Though he vetoed those 2 items he’s allowed road money re-allocations through on numerous occaision so you were wrong in thi statement though it was hilarious! Argh!

        The point may soon be mute since a federal congressman has introduced a bill that would make it ilegal for states to use federal road money for anything other than what it is earmarked for. e.g. no more parks, light rail, green spces… They’d have to actually spend the money building and repairing roads and bridges, what a novel idea 🙂

  • The Wash Co GOP Activists

    WANNA CONFRONT ODOT and the ruling Democrats, here’s your chance (bring your video cameras!)

    State Rep. Tobias Read, Democrat – State House Dist. 27 (SE Beaverton, Garden Home)


    DATE: Monday. August 20, 2007
    TIME: 6:00 to 7:00pm
    WHERE: Beaverton Public Library – Meeting Room B, 12375 SW 5th Street, Beaverton, Oregon 97005
    TOPIC: *Transportation – Featuring ODOT Director Matt Garrett*
    SPONSOR: Undisclosed

    *Having served on the House Transportation Committee, Rep. Tobias Reid is pleased to be joined by Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) Director, Matt Garrett.* They planned this discussion before the tragic collapse of Minnesota’s I-35W bridge, but that shocking event underscores the importance of Oregon’s transportation infrastructure to our future. In a recent Oregonian article, the chairwoman of the House Transportation Committee, Representative Terry Beyer, echoes the need to bring more light to Oregon’s situation and address the critical investments we require. Rep. Reid invites you join him and Director Garrett. (trans – More mass transit, more congestion, more taxes) 🙁

    Please RSVP online for this town hall at

  • Anonymous

    How ’bout we just quit pissing away money on light rail?

  • Terry Parker

    If tolls are to be used to fund bridges and possibly roads, farebox revenues need to be used to fund transit (not taxpayers) and bicyclists exclusively need to fund bicycle infrastructure (not motorists). Furthermore, both transit passengers and bicyclists use bridges. Therefore if a bridge is tolled, both transit users and bicyclists need be proportionately tolled for their share of the structure.

Stay Tuned...

Stay up to date with the latest political news and commentary from Oregon Catalyst through daily email updates:

Prefer another subscription option? Subscribe to our RSS Feed, become a fan on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.

Twitter Facebook

No Thanks (close this box)