Columbia River Free Riding

Oregon and Washington are currently involved in a perfect example of the public good dilemma. The I-5 bridge crossing which connects Portland OR to Vancouver WA is argued by some to be too old and not really suitable for the amount of traffic trying to cross the Columbia River every day. A new crossing has been in the works for a number of years but the future of the project is in major jeopardy. Based on the articles I’ve been able to read, it appears the major hold up on building a new bridge connecting Oregon and Washington is coming up with a means to finance it. Oregon legislators wants to split a portion of the cost with Washington, but up to this point Washington has refused to pay for any part of the bridge construction. Part of the reason Washington is refusing to help with financing the crossing is that some legislators believe the cost is being inflated by a light rail transit system that will run along the bridge. Also, there’s uncertainty as to whether or not a new crossing is going to alleviate the congestion problems facing Vancouver and Portland.  If Oregon does decide to take up the entire cost of the project, a situation would exist where Washington residents would be free riding if they used the bridge. As a way to eliminate the free riding problem some proponents of the crossing have suggested placing a toll on the bridge in order to capture revenue from Washington residents. Some believe though that Washington residents will just use the I-205 bridge instead which would lead to more congestion over that crossing. Ironically, Washington officials from the Vancouver area had showed up at a committee hearing a little over a week ago encouraging Oregon to go forward with the project, despite their states refusal to help with funding. It will be interesting to see what the state of Oregon decides. It seems either way, build or no build, a lot of citizens are going to be unhappy.

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3 Responses to Columbia River Free Riding

  1. knightli says:

    One way to solve the “free-rider” problem is to have tolls on both bridges and have only Washington residents pay for the tolls. Another option is the ability to purchase a toll pass with Oregon residents getting a discount on the pass. Of course either of these options would probably increase congestion coming into Oregon on either bridge.

  2. Junwei Zhang says:

    Oregon could decide to build the bridge without the fund of Washington. And there is no need to have tolls on the bridge, because it could cause the congestion, which makes the new bridge meaningless. People would prefer to go for the old one without any pays. If Oregon could build this bridge, in the short run, it might cost lots of money. But in the long run, this bridge would increase the traffic speed, so that the business speed would increase too. The better transportation would make not only both Washington and Oregon citizens better off, Oregon as a whole would be richer and more efficient.

  3. jonesnol says:

    I’ve lived in Portland my whole life and have followed this project as it has progressed. What has been a constant theme of the Vancouver Portland debate is how easy it has been for residence of Washington to take advantage of the State of Oregon’s lack of a sales tax. The benefit of their situation is that they simply do not pay the high income taxes Oregon place on their residence while living only minutes away from a few major shopping areas at the largest metropolitan center the state offers. This is also a free rider problem that has arisen and has caused financial fallout from the lack of cash. So in a sense the need for tolls has been around for a while, and this project provides an opportunity for the state of Oregon to finally be able to reap tax dollars from commuting Washingtonians.

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