The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has responded to Oregon’s tolling application by outlining the federal requirements to implement tolls on interstate highways.
Oregon is seeking approval to implement tolls on sections of Interstate 5 and Interstate 205 in order to manage traffic congestion and to generate revenue for transportation improvements.
The Jan. 8 FHWA letter provides the basis for ODOT to move into the next phase of work on the project. It helps to clarify the requirements under FHWA tolling programs and environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) that Oregon must meet in order to secure federal approval for tolling two sections of the interstate.
ODOT will continue working closely with FHWA to move the project forward.
“This is a major step that will help us keep moving forward in what will be a long process,” said Tammy Baney, chair of the Oregon Transportation Commission (OTC). “In this letter, the FHWA acknowledges the work completed in our feasibility analysis and points us toward the next steps we need to take to use tolling in Oregon to help us maintain a transportation system that will meet our growing needs.”
To see the FHWA letter, go to the project web site at www.odotvaluepricing.org.
ODOT prepared the application asking for federal approval to conduct further analysis of tolling on two highway segments in the Portland area:
- Interstate 205 on or in the vicinity of the George Abernethy Bridge in Clackamas County; these tolls were examined as part of a revenue strategy to fund construction of the planned widening and seismic reconstruction of several bridges between OR 213 and Stafford Road, including the Abernethy Bridge.
- Interstate 5 along approximately seven miles through central Portland; this area, including the Rose Quarter, is one of the most severely congested corridors in the region and a critical route for interstate commerce.
For both projects, additional analysis is needed to determine the exact end points.
In order to address the requirements outlined in the FHWA letter, ODOT expects to begin the next round of technical analysis and public engagement in late spring. Many of the specific issues identified by the FHWA will need to be addressed, as well as the issues and questions raised by members of the PAC and the public during the feasibility analysis.
The next phase of work will include in-depth planning, traffic and revenue analysis, technical studies, environmental review and extensive public engagement. This work will focus on concerns raised frequently during the feasibility analysis phase of the project. These include:
- Developing strategies to ensure that low-income and other historically underserved communities share in the benefits;
- Understanding the potential for further diversion onto neighborhood streets and developing strategies to keep the traffic on appropriate roadways;
- Exploring opportunities to improve transit and other transportation options, so that people have real choices for mobility if tolling is in place.
This phase is expected to take several years due to the rigor of the necessary analysis and the extensive public engagement required.
Public outreach, the FHWA letter emphasized, is critical to the success of the project.
“The FHWA cannot overemphasize the value of a transparent public involvement outreach and marketing effort to inform the region on the realities and myths of tolling, the issues the OTC/ODOT seeks to address, and the state’s vision for tolling in the region,” the FHWA letter said. “An aggressive public involvement, outreach and marketing effort serves to streamline the overall project delivery.”
These tolling projects were recommended for further study by a Policy Advisory Committee (PAC) that informed ODOT’s Value Pricing Feasibility Analysis. The PAC met six times between November 2017 and June 2018. At their December 2018 meeting, OTC commissioners approved the PAC recommendations.
On Dec. 10, 2018, the Oregon Transportation Commission submitted an application to the FHWA asking for guidance in what federal tolling programs are best suited for Oregon’s project and the requirements needed under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
In its Jan. 8 letter, the FHWA said additional project detail is needed prior to final approval but that both projects are “likely eligible” under the federal Value Pricing Pilot Program.