Mayor Bennett is going backwards, truth-telling-wise, on the City of Salem's false contention that there is no plan to toll any of Salem's bridges. Friday I blogged about the original falsity in "'Alternative Facts' in City of Salem Facebook post about 3rd Bridge tolls."
Regarding the post on the official City of Salem Facebook page, I said:
I was deeply irritated after reading it, and not just because I'm strongly opposed to building an unneeded half-billion dollar 3rd Bridge, a.k.a. the Salem River Crossing (which would cost around a billion dollars once financing is included).
What bugged me the most was the disregard for evident facts in the post. Look, I understand that one job of PR people at the City of Salem is to defend policy decisions, even if they are screwy. But these communications staff also have a responsibility to citizens to be as honest, open, and transparent as possible.
Yesterday morning, Saturday, I sent this message to the email address shown on the City of Salem Facebook page.
But today, Sunday, on the No 3rd Bridge Facebook page a concerned citizen shared in a comment the response she'd gotten from Mayor Chuck Bennett. (click image to enlarge)
Mayor Bennett said (emphasis added):
First, thank you for your thoughtful email. I want to assure you there is no intention at all to impose tolls on Salem bridges. That is just misinformation.
It is not legal to toll the existing bridges. As for a future second crossing, the payment method for construction is going to be up to the voters at that time and my view is that tolling is probably the most unlikely if any method is acceptable.
I'd be glad to visit about this but I can't go into much detail writing on my iPhone. Let me know though and I'd be glad to call or write further when I get on a real keyboard,
Mayor of Salem
Wow. Bennett said "there is no intention at all to impose tolls on Salem bridges."
Note that he didn't say on Salem's current bridges. The issue is whether there is an intention to toll the proposed Salem River Crossing, a.k.a. the 3rd Bridge (which, however, might entail also tolling the current bridges). The answer is clear: YES.
Here is the funding plan for the Salem River Crossing that shows $175 million of the $430 million cost coming from a $1.50 each way toll.
Further, the Salem River Crossing web site has an entire FAQ section devoted to questions and answers about tolling. Here's a few of them.
Download FAQ - Salem River Crossing
Why would both the existing bridges and the new bridge have to be tolled?
The purpose of this project is to reduce congestion across the river and on the connecting street system.
Tolling is being explored as a way to pay for the project but it does not work if only one bridge is tolled. If only the new bridge is tolled, many people would choose to use the existing (non-tolled) bridges instead of the new one. This would result in little improvement to congestion on the existing bridges. Since so many fewer people would use the new tolled bridge, not enough money would be generated to pay for it. If both bridges are tolled, traffic is balanced between the new and existing bridges and tolls are captured for a much larger number of trips across the river.
What is congestion pricing?
Congestion pricing is a way to use tolls to manage congestion, in addition to generating revenue. The term means that tolls would be adjusted based on the amount of traffic on the road. Drivers pay more to drive during the most congested parts of the day. The most advanced systems adjust the price automatically as traffic conditions change throughout the day, keeping traffic moving more smoothly. While congestion pricing increases costs for drivers in the peak travel hours, it can dramatically reduce congestion by spreading traffic into the less congested times of day. The SR 167 High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lane between Renton and Auburn Washington uses congestion pricing.
Thus not only did Mayor Bennett falsely claim that there is no intention to impose tolls on Salem bridges (there is, both for a new 3rd Bridge and for the two existing bridges), it seems pretty damn clear that Bennett also wrongly said that it is not legal to toll the existing bridges.
If this is true, which I'm quite sure it isn't, Bennett needs to tell the Salem River Crossing team to take any and all mention of tolling the two existing bridges off of the SRC web site, because currently it says that if tolling is used as a way to pay for the project, as the funding plan says, ALL of Salem's bridges probably would need to be tolled.
Why would the SRC team say this if it was illegal? They are transportation experts. Further, I browsed through several documents related to tolling roads and bridges in Oregon and couldn't find any mention that this would require voter approval. See here and here.
So let's add another probably falsehood to Bennett's list:
... the payment method for construction is going to be up to the voters at that time and my view is that tolling is probably the most unlikely if any method is acceptable