Congestion pricing tolling to ‘manage’ traffic isn’t being discussed
State of Oregon officials are moving forward with plans to toll not only I-205 in the vicinity of the Abernethy Bridge near Oregon City, but eventually all of I-205 and all of I-5 “from the border with Washington” to potentially the Boone Bridge near Wilsonville. This is of concern to Southwest Washington citizens and Clark County residents because roughly 75,000 Clark County residents commute to Oregon for work, paying Oregon income taxes.
Oregon’s Department of Transportation (ODOT) officials have been hosting a series of community forums on the tolling program, seeking input from citizens. Wednesday was the 11th meeting of the Equity and Mobility Advisory Committee.
An unidentified Oregon City resident expressed concerns that none of the people in her circle know about the tolling. “Nearly every person that I speak to in my personal life, has never heard about the tolling project,’’ the lady told members of the committee. “It just seems that it kind of crept in without really notifying people about it.”
The speaker told the ODOT staffers and consultants that she is concerned because the community isn’t making input and getting involved in the decision-making process.
As is typical in these “listening sessions,” the staff didn’t have an answer for the citizen. With further prompting, she shared more.
“I personally am obviously opposed to a toll,” she said. “But it’s not my choice. I just feel like the community should have more of an ability to be involved, and no one is being notified of this.”
“Why is it not on the news that Oregon is moving to tolling systems,” she asked. “Why isn’t it in the newspaper? Why isn’t it in the community newsletters that go out? It feels like it’s being done pretty much secretly, from a citizens standpoint.”
Earlier this week, Vancouver Councilor Bart Hansen shared with Clark County Today that he is surprised he’s not hearing more from Vancouver residents about the tolling “congestion mitigation” issue, both for the Interstate Bridge program and the regional tolling plan Oregon is undertaking.
“Silence is consent,” he said. Hansen shared his concerns that people are unaware they may be paying more than one toll.
“When you explain to folks you can pay a toll to go over the bridge, and then when you cross to the other side, you will pay into congestion mitigation,” he said. “Well, hold on. You mean, I’m not just gonna get charged for crossing the bridge? No, that’s just the beginning.”
Hansen made it clear during the Vancouver City Council meeting he is opposed to congestion mitigation (congestion pricing of toll lanes). He does not oppose a flat toll to help pay for the bridge if needed.
Oregon has not yet decided which of many possible types of tolling might be implemented. It could be a flat fee for crossing the Abernethy Bridge. ODOT plans to widen the bridge and then add one new lane on I-205 to Stafford Road.
ODOT is also discussing “congestion pricing,” which increases the cost to drive on a segment of road during high traffic times. The concept is to change people’s behavior, encouraging people to travel at other times to avoid the high fares, or to use transit. Roads are congested 12 hours a day in the metro area.
The Oregon Legislature opened the door for tolling in HB 2017, signed into law in the summer of 2017. It asked ODOT to study tolling “from the border” with Washington. Ultimately, Oregon is planning tolls for “congestion management” on all area freeways, including I-5, I-205, I-84, I-405, US 26, and OR 217.
ODOT’s Don Hamilton talked about “behavior modification” when the program was initially proposed. “Congestion pricing is an array of tools to increase charges on the road,” he said in a Jan. 2018 interview with Clark County Today.
The Interstate Bridge Replacement Program (IBRP) has shared they expect tolls to be part of the finance plan to pay for an expected $4 billion to $5 billion price tag to replace the bridge. Those tolls would be in addition to any tolls Oregon collects for driving on I-5 or I-205.
Two options were chosen by ODOT to advance in their I-205 program last fall. You can read more here.
In its March newsletter on their proposed tolling program for the Portland metro area, ODOT said the following:
Tolling is a widely used industry term to describe road pricing programs. It is worth clarifying upfront that ODOT is using ‘tolling’ as an umbrella term for the program, which is expected to include various types of tolling such as congestion pricing (also known as variable rate pricing), and other applications needed to generate revenue and manage congestion.
The two toll projects underway have a dual purpose: manage congestion and generate revenue. We are working to identify a balanced toll rate that enhances traffic flow while generating revenue for transportation improvements. A toll that is too low won’t manage congestion well. A toll that is too high leads to too many highway drivers using local streets. With a balanced toll more people benefit from improved travel on the highway and throughout the region.
In the era of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, it may not be surprising that citizens have not heard about Oregon’s tolling program. But for those who want to learn more, you can read multiple Clark County Today articles here, here, here, and here in addition to those linked above.