Toll hikes must first be approved by WA lawmakers, including for CRC

Toll hikes must first be approved by WA lawmakers, including for CRC
Columbia River Crossing bridge design.

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Thanks to the passage of anti-tax Initiative 1185 in November, Washington state lawmakers must approve any road or bridge toll hike — a task it had previously delegated to the state's Transportation Commission.

The change was confirmed in a letter sent Friday by Office of Financial Management Director for Legal Affairs Julie Murray.

The letter's recipient was Republican Sen. Pam Roach of Auburn. Roach said it means that lawmakers must approve any toll increases before they can take effect.

In the letter, Murray wrote that lawmakers would need to approve fees for the Columbia River Crossing project, a controversial bridge plan that, if built, would replace the current Interstate 5 bridge between Portland and Vancouver.

A January letter sent to Roach by the state Attorney General's office, however, notes that such approval needn't be "legislation specifying a particular dollar amount."

In her proposed 2013-2015 transportation budget, outgoing Gov. Chris Gregoire proposed granting the Transportation Commission the authority to raise ferry fares as needed for the budget.

On Tuesday, Oregon’s Gov. John Kitzhaber signed into law a bill authorizing the state’s $450 million share for building the bridge.

The money will only be spent if Washington state comes up with its own $450 million share, the federal government puts up more than $1 billion and the U.S. Coast Guard issues a permit.

Kitzhaber says this project is a priority for the state and he's hopeful Washington will pass similar legislation this year.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. Staff contributed to this report.