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
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