During its Aug. 16 meeting in John Day, the Oregon Transportation Commission considered the recommendations of its 25 member Portland Metro Area Value Pricing Policy Advisory Committee and provided direction to ODOT on preparation of an application to the Federal Highway Administration to implement tolling.
In 2017, the Oregon Legislature directed the OTC to seek federal approval of a congestion pricing plan. In July, the advisory committee submitted recommendations to the OTC. The recommendations include an initial tolling pilot program at two locations in the Portland Metro area:
- All I-5 lanes between approximately Northeast Going Street/Alberta Street and Southwest Multnomah Boulevard, a stretch of about seven miles through the downtown Portland corridor.
- On or near the George Abernethy Bridge on Interstate 205.
Tolling could be used to both manage congestion and generate revenue to address highway bottlenecks, including by potentially funding the I-5 Rose Quarter and I-205 Stafford Road to Abernethy Bridge improvement projects.
The advisory committee recommendations also identified three priorities for mitigating potential impacts of any future tolling program:
- Improved public transportation and other transportation options to address equity and mobility
- Special provisions for environmental justice populations, including low-income communities
- Diversion strategies to minimize negative impacts
The OTC accepted the advisory committee’s recommendations to seek to toll the two segments of I-5 and I-205 and directed ODOT to prepare an application to the Federal Highway Administration seeking approval to toll these segments. ODOT will present this application for the OTC’s approval on November 16. By law, the application must be submitted by December 31, 2018.
The OTC also provided direction that any toll revenues from within the metro region be placed in a Congestion Relief Fund to invest in improvements to the transportation system in the region, as directed in HB 2017. The Oregon Constitution requires that any toll revenues be invested in roads.
ODOT will work with federal officials to determine the next steps to move tolling forward. Before receiving final federal approval to implement tolling, ODOT will conduct additional traffic and revenue analysis, undertake in-depth analysis of equity and diversion impacts, and engage the public with significant outreach and public comment opportunities. ODOT anticipates that it will be a number of years before tolling is implemented on Portland area freeways.
“We’ve heard consistently from Oregonians across the state that congestion in the Portland metro area is hurting our livability and impacting our economy. Tolling can help us both manage demand and finance bottleneck relief projects that will provide people a better commute and help us keep commerce moving,” said Tammy Baney, chair of the Oregon Transportation Commission. “But before we implement tolling we still have a lot of work to mitigate the potential impacts of tolling, particularly to address the potential impacts on low-income families, but also to find ways to improve public transit and address diversion of traffic off the freeway.”
OTC member Alando Simpson, who co-chaired the advisory committee, praised its members for their work. “Everyone rolled up their sleeves to wrestle with the tough questions,” said Simpson. “By bringing everyone around the table, the process helped us move this discussion forward. We now have two potentially viable options for how to use congestion pricing to improve Portland’s transportation system.”
“We are in the early stages of discussing tolling, and we have a lot to do to design a comprehensive program to reduce congestion in the Portland region,” noted OTC member Bob Van Brocklin. “We are all aware that our population is growing dramatically, and that we will need to invest more in our infrastructure from a range of funding sources to keep up with that growth.”
Consistent with the advisory committee’s recommendation to analyze the benefits and impacts of tolling on other roadways, the OTC also provided direction to separately develop a long-term study of congestion pricing on all Portland metro area freeways including Interstate 84, Interstate 405, U.S. 26 and Oregon 217. ODOT will develop an approach for implementation, including policy review, potential geographic scope, timing, estimates of resource needs, and OTC oversight. ODOT will provide a draft proposal for OTC discussion in November and present a refined proposal for OTC approval before the end of January 2019.
OTC member Sean O’Hollaren, who served as the other co-chair of the advisory committee, emphasized how the OTC responded to comments from the public, including residents of southwest Washington. “Our partners across the Columbia River expressed concerns that exploring tolling on I-5 and I-205 would unfairly target people commuting from Washington. We listened and adopted a more comprehensive approach that will look at all freeways, not just those used by Washingtonians to get to work.”
“Congestion in Portland that traps trucks in traffic impacts the economy of the entire state,” said Commissioner Martin Callery of North Bend, who formerly worked for the Oregon International Port of Coos Bay and served as vice-chair of the Oregon Freight Advisory Committee. “We need to look for creative solutions that will keep freight moving so we can keep Oregon businesses strong and produce family-wage jobs.”