One in three drivers undeterred by Columbia River Crossing tolls


SEATTLE--Nov. 28, 2012: While supporters and critics of the proposed Columbia River Crossing transit project continue to debate how residents will pay for travel between Portland and Vancouver, a recent poll from Northwest-based PEMCO Insurance reveals that one in three drivers in that area aren't planning to change their route or mode of transportation despite potential tolls that will help partially finance the project.

According to the poll, as many as 33 percent of all drivers polled in Clark County and Portland say they won't change their commuting behaviors, like opting to drive a different route, carpooling, moving their residence, or riding the bus more often to avoid paying tolls that could be mandated for Interstate 5 travelers between Vancouver, Wash., and Portland, Ore.

Of the drivers in Clark County and the Portland metro area who say they ever use the existing I-5 bridge that currently connects the two communities, 28 percent say they would not adjust their route or commuting behaviors to avoid the toll.

About two out of five drivers (41 percent) in Portland say that even with a toll, they would use the Columbia River Crossing just as often as they do now.  Meanwhile, nearly two-thirds of Clark County drivers (65 percent) -- who currently use the I-5 bridge more often than their Portland neighbors -- say they'll use the bridge less often.

"We wonder if Clark County drivers might resemble their Washington neighbors to the north who pay tolls to cross SR 520 and the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. In the Puget Sound area, we found that although drivers said they intended to change their driving patterns once the 520 tolls took effect, many continued to use the bridge as frequently as before," said Jon Osterberg, PEMCO spokesperson.

The Columbia River Crossing project proposes to update the existing bridge that connects Vancouver, Wash., and Portland, improving structural stability, traffic congestion, cyclist and pedestrian accessibility, and it could introduce a light rail system. To finance the project, proposed tolls -- in addition to state and federal funding -- would charge drivers on a sliding scale depending on the time of day.

The PEMCO poll finds that very few drivers in either state say they would change how they travel in response to the impending toll. Only 12 percent said they'd carpool more often, and even fewer -- just 9 percent -- said they would ride the bus more frequently.

A majority, however -- 77 percent of Clark County drivers and 52 percent of Portlanders -- say they intend to use I-205 instead, which is not tolled, to avoid I-5 once its bridge tolls are implemented.

"With so many drivers saying they'll divert their route, it's likely that I-205 would become congested. Perhaps more drivers will choose convenience over savings and end up joining the 33 percent who plan to stay their course despite the toll. We'll continue to track opinions as the project continues," Osterberg said.

habits and attitudes toward current Northwest issues. The sample size, 400 respondents in the Portland metro area and 52 respondents in Clark County, yields an accuracy of +/- 5.0 and +/- 13.9 percent (respectively) at the 95 percent confidence level. In other words, if this study were conducted 100 times, in 95 instances the data will not vary by more than the associated error range.

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