Tualatin wary of ‘unequal impacts’ for I-205 tolling

Oregon

City Council ponders effects on businesses, whether revenues would stay in the area

FILE IMAGE: Shown here, I-205 runs through West Linn just west of the Abernathy Bridge and Willamette River. ODOT is looking at the possibility of tolling portions of the highway. (Credit: Pamplin Media Group/Portland Tribune)

TUALATIN, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — Tualatin officials are leery about a proposal for charging tolls along Interstate 205.

They have forwarded their concerns to the Oregon Department of Transportation during the National Environmental Policy Act’s open comment period.

“No. 1 is that we’d like to see revenues from this, if they’re collected in this corridor, that they stay in the corridor for investment,” Garrett Prior, a policy analyst for the city, told the Tualatin City Council during an Aug. 24 work session.

ODOT is conducting a tolling alternatives study that examines the possibility of tolling along I-205 in a section that stretches from east of the Stafford Road exit and goes just north of Oregon City but not all the way to Happy Valley, Prior told the council.

Local jurisdictions had until Sept. 16 to weigh in with comments.

As part of its input to ODOT officials, Tualatin wants to know the impacts tolling might have on businesses, neighborhoods and schools, as well as whether the state highway agency would consider regional tolling in an effort to “address the major chokepoints” on I-5 at the Boones Bridge and Columbia River Crossing.

“The current situation of spot tolling has unequal impacts on the region, as only certain communities will bear the greatest burden,” according to comments city officials forwarded to Linda Broussard, ODOT toll program director.

Prior emphasized the groundbreaking nature of the toll study includes that it takes into consideration equity issues.

“What I think is happening here is … that this is one of the first projects in the country where they really try to take on an equity, and specifically a racial equity, lens into tolling,” Garrett said.

Tualatin Mayor Frank Bubenik said he’s seen several ODOT presentations, including three in one week, pointing out they are “the same dog and pony show … and each audience, the same questions are being raised and each time the project committee really doesn’t answer them, just says they’re noting the questions without giving any kind of commitment to when they’ll be answered, but they are at least noting the questions being taken.”

During the work session, Councilor Bridget Brooks asked city staff to find out the cost of conducting such a tolling study.

“I just don’t know how popular it is and to be spending this kind of money, in this kind of time, on this kind of project, is something I’m also curious about, very curious about, and how much it’s costing taxpayers,” Brooks said.

Councilor Robert Kellogg said he wants to study moving the tolling infrastructure along I-205 to west of Stafford Road, but ODOT’s response has been to say it’s part of an area where there won’t be any improvements made so the agency can’t put any tolling infrastructure there.

He said the best way to mitigate tolling impacts that divert drivers off the highway is to put the infrastructure west of Stafford Road. In addition, Kellogg said he’d like to see tolling modeling done along I-5 as well, saying the current proposal for I-205 tolling will simply divert motorists to Stafford Road.

“They’re just going to avoid 205 altogether and try to take I-5 up to 84 creating more congestion and problems, which ironically is what they’re trying to (prevent),” Kellogg said. In addition to Tualatin, elected officials in Oregon City, Gladstone, Canby, West Linn and Lake Oswego have given a chilly reception to the idea of tolling.

Rep. Rachel Prusak, D-West Linn, had testified earlier this year in Salem about a need for a third lane on I-205 along with seismic improvements made to the Abernethy Bridge, the bridge that spans the Willamette River, saying current traffic congestion along I-205 has caused motorists to seek alternate routes via city streets. She pointed to an ODOT traffic report that showed a 260% increase in traffic that re-enters I-205 at the Stafford Road exit.

That means 4,100 more vehicles divert their driving onto community roads each day, she said at the time.

According to ODOT statistics, prior to March, an estimated 100,000 vehicles traveled on I-205 between Stafford Road and Oregon 213 (Exit 10 to Oregon City and Molalla). That span causes more than 6.5 hours of traffic congestion each day, according to the agency.

Meanwhile, Bubenik said both he and Wilsonville Mayor Tim Knapp recently were asked by Roy Rogers, a member of the Washington County Commission, what they thought of the tolling proposal. They responded by giving “the unvarnished truth according to how we see it,” Bubenik said.

Reporter Sam Stites contributed to this report.

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