OTC sends Portland toll plan to the feds

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Oregon Transportation Commission asks the FHWA to review the Portland area tolling plan

Dec. 6, 2018

For more information, contact Don Hamilton, 503-704-7452

SALEM – The Oregon Transportation Commission (OTC) Thursday submitted for federal review a proposal for tolling on two Portland-area highway.

B y a 5-0 vote, the OTC forwarded the 48-page plan to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). OTC commissioners described  the tolling plan, directed by the Oregon Legislature last year in House Bill 2017, as a way to raise revenue for construction projects and to help ease congestion.

“Congestion in this area is creating problems in our quality of life and damaging our economic advantage,” said Tammy Baney, the Commission chair. “This is why we’re looking at the possibility of tolling to manage congestion and generate additional revenue. We need options and tools and this is one.”  

The application seeks federal approval to continue studying tolling on two highway segments in the Portland area:

  • Interstate 5 along seven miles between North Going Street/Alberta Street and Southwest Multnomah Boulevard. Tolling here could help reduce congestion and finance safety improvements in the Rose Quarter, one of the most severely congested corridors in the region and a critical path for commerce. The exact tolling boundaries are still under study.
  • Interstate 205 around the George Abernethy Bridge in Clackamas County, the exact location still to be determined. The tolls could ease congestion and finance a planned third lane and seismic strengthening between OR 99E and Stafford Road, including the Abernethy Bridge and smaller bridges.

The tolling rates and time of day for tolling on these freeways have not been determined.

Baney said additional analysis and public input is still to come.

“This is not an easy conversation because it’s very new to our state and region,” said Commissioner Alando Simpson, a co-chair of the tolling advisory panel that drafted the recommendations. “But the public made it very clear we cannot ignore this problem and they expect us to take positive steps. This is a good start but we have a long way to go.” 

The application asks federal officials to clarify and confirm three critical next steps in the process:

  • Which of the several federal tolling programs are appropriate for Oregon’s plans.
  • The nature of the analysis and project development needed under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), a necessary part of the process.
  • An estimate of the timeline needed for NEPA review.

If the FHWA supports the tolling proposal, the steps over the next several years could include project refinement, environmental review, and the identification and funding of tolling infrastructure construction.

Future analysis will also focus on concerns raised frequently during the feasibility analysis phase of the project, including understanding equity impacts, needed improvements to mass transit services and other travel options and minimizing diversion impacts to neighborhood streets.

Congestion pricing, also known as value pricing, is a type of tolling used around the world that aims to reduce traffic congestion with user fees that are higher during more congested times of the day, usually in the morning and afternoon rush hours. Congestion pricing is typically implemented with transit improvements to provide more travel choices.

“The implications of not acting are significant economically, environmentally and socially,” said Bob Van Brocklin, OTC vice chairman. “Doing nothing is not an option and we have to do something significant.”