Civic Affairs

Oregon sends tolling plan to federal officials

Oregon Transportation Commission voted unanimously to forward the plan

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) -- Oregon is seeking federal approval to toll two Portland-area freeways. 

The Oregon Transportation Commission voted unanimously on Thursday to send its tolling proposal to the Federal Highway Administration.

Oregon wants to collect tolls along 7 miles of I-5 between North Going Street/Alberta Street and Southwest Multnomah Boulevard. 

The second tolling section would fall on I-205 near the George Abernethy Bridge in Clackamas County. 

If the FHA approves the plan, drivers can expect to pay tolls. 

Proponents say the tolling will help pay for road projects and ease congestion. The rates and times of day when drivers would have to pay have not been decided upon. 

All of this is a result of the Keep Oregon Moving transportation bill that voters passed in 2017. 

“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.”  

Siena Salazar lives in Vancouver and works in Portland. She described her commute on the freeway as "miserable." 

"We spend probably an hour and 45 minutes on the freeway each way from work," said Salazar. "If it does anything to alleviate that, I think it would be beneficial." 

Others aren't sold on the idea. 

"I'm a student athlete, I don't have time to get a job, so I don't have the funds to do that," said Kahleem Barber-Strong. 

Christian Trejbal, chair of the Overlook Neighborhood Association, isn't against the tolls but is worried about the drivers who may try to avoid paying.

"The only reason to not start at the bridge is so people can get off in advance," said Trejbal. "Everyone has seen how congestion on I-5 is in the morning. The goal is to reduce congestion -- those cars have to get somewhere." 

Trejbal said he's concerned cars trying to dodge the tolls will end up in his north Portland neighborhood. 

"That creates significant safety concerns for pedestrians, for bikers, for kids walking to and from school," said Trejbal. "They are disruptive to the neighborhoods -- these are supposed to be residential neighborhoods." 

Officials with the Oregon Department of Transportation said these kinds of concern are also not taken lightly. 

"We are worried about the diversion onto the local streets, we are worried about the impact on low income communities and we are worried also about the impact this has on mass transit," said ODOT's Don Hamilton. 

While any tolling is literally years away, the ball is definitely rolling. 

"Doing nothing is not really an option in here," said Hamilton. "I think the public expects us to try to take significant steps forward to try to do something about the congestion problems." 

Meanwhile, Jaime Herrera Beutler, US Representative for Southwest Washington, criticized Oregon's decision in the following statement: 

"Today’s vote in favor of tolling may seem minor, but it represents Oregon swinging the door open to place tolls at the most lucrative spots – namely, on the I-5 and I-205 bridges used by working class Washington residents. Oregon knows revenue can be collected at those spots without any political recourse from Southwest Washington residents who have no vote in the matter, which is why it continues to barrel ahead without presenting any kind of plan to improve the infrastructure that most Southwest Washingtonians actually use. 

"My job is to give Southwest Washington residents a say, and I’ll continue to oppose any plan that treats them unfairly and also undermines our region’s number one infrastructure priority: an improved I-5 bridge that can transport more cars and freight more efficiently across the river." 

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