Tolls possible in Portland

Emma Sager, standing, of Portland-based consulting firm EnviroIssues, waits to write feedback from members of a Portland-area tolling policy advisory committee on a draft recommendation for tolls on Interstate 5 and Interstate 205.

PORTLAND — A state policy advisory committee plans to recommend tolling all lanes of Interstate 5 and the Abernathy Bridge on Interstate 205 in the Portland metro area as a strategy to reduce traffic congestion and raise revenue to build a third lane on the bridge.

Tolls on I-5 would extend from North Going/Alberta Street to Multnomah Boulevard and be variable depending on levels of congestion.

“What congestion pricing does … is it actually reduces the number of people on the road during peak period travel, gets the through traffic that we’re looking for, that we thought we needed with increased road space, but we actually get it with the pricing,” said Chris Hagerbaumer of the Oregon Environmental Council, who serves on the committee. “ … This is the cheapest way to get new ‘capacity.’”

The tolls would be launched as a pilot program to prove to the public the efficacy of congestion-priced tolls in reducing traffic congestion. The second part of the recommendation calls for analyzing the results of the tolls and possibly developing a subsequent, comprehensive plan for tolling other highways in the Portland area.

Several people on the committee asked that increased transit services be a condition of imposing any tolls to help mitigate the impact the tolls could take on low-income commuters.

“It’s hard to price people for something when we cannot provide them with other options,” said Craig Dirksen of the Metro Council, who serves on the committee. “We need to include transit access from the very beginning.”

The 25 members of the committee failed to reach consensus on every aspect of the plan they’ll recommend. Each has an opportunity to write an explanation for their support or opposition in the final draft of the recommendation.

Representatives for environmental and trucking interests clashed over whether the pilot should include raising revenue to build another lane on I-205. Environmental representatives want to encourage transit, carpooling and other alternative modes of transportation to decrease demand on the roadways rather than increase space for more vehicles.

Jana Jarvis of the Oregon Trucking Association said she would support a plan only if it included raising revenue for additional lanes.

“Congestion” or “value pricing” refers to the practice of changing the toll price for a freeway or a lane based on how much congestion is on the roadway during that time. During the rush-hour periods, the price would be higher, and at some times at night, there might be no cost to use the same road.

A $5.3 billion transportation-funding bill passed last year requires the state transportation commission to consider tolling in the Portland metro area but does not mandate it.

A final version of the recommendation is scheduled to be presented to the Oregon Transportation Commission in July.

Transportation commissioners have until December to send a proposal to the Federal Highway Administration, which would need to approve any plan.

It would take several years to implement the tolling plan, according to state transportation officials.

The Capital Bureau is a collaboration between EO Media Group and Pamplin Media Group.

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