The Oregon Department of Transportation asked for feedback on its deeply unpopular plans to add tolling on Interstate 205 near Oregon City and, well, you know what they say: Be careful what you wish for.
More than 4,600 people and organizations from Oregon and Washington submitted comments during the 75-day window, ODOT said, offering input on the project’s purpose, proposed tolling scenarios and means of implementing tolls.
A majority of respondents across all demographic groups expressed “strong opposition to tolling in general or to the specifics of the I-205 Toll Project,” according to an engagement summary released by ODOT last month.
“Many commenters provided specific and reasoned justifications for their concerns and sentiment,” the report noted, including “the lack of alternative non-tolled routes or travel modes, … stated unfairness of tolling this segment of I-205 before other regional highways, and the perceived lack of travel benefits.”
ODOT said the feedback illustrated “the need for more public engagement to better explain how toll systems work, the benefits realized by tolling and how decisions will be made.”
“Clearly there is more work to do,” said Oregon Toll Program Director Lucinda Broussard. “The comments we received from the community demonstrate the confusion around this type of tolling, which makes sense considering this has never been done before in Oregon.”
The tolling area will include all lanes of I-205 in both directions from Stafford Road to Highway 213, with the actual installation likely to be at the Abernethy Bridge near Oregon City and West Linn.
There will be no physical toll booths or stops. Rather, drivers will have the option of registering for an account and tracking their trips and payments with a transponder device. Other motorists will have their license plates tracked at the tolling site and receive invoices through the mail.
The tolls will use a “fixed variable” price point that charges a higher fee during peak hours — from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m., and from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., perhaps — and a lesser fee the rest of the day,
The primary method used to provide comments was an online survey. Based on survey data, about half of respondents live in Clackamas County and rely on I-205 for multiple trips a week. Like other demographic groups, people most affected by a potential toll expressed the greatest concerns.
“We’ve seen at the beginning of other toll projects how community support starts low,” Broussard said. “With so many unknowns, it’s easy to understand why no one wants to pay more for travel.”
However, she argued, tolling projects in regions like the Willamette Valley demonstrate that once a toll is implemented, trips improve, travel times go down and people start to appreciate and support it.
According to ODOT, other benefits from tolls can include a more reliable trip, less stress and the ability to put money back in the corridor for other transportation improvements.
The most frequently mentioned subjects of comments focused on the use of toll revenue, diversion to local streets and lack of fairness in Clackamas County and effect on underserved and underrepresented communities.
Respondents offered numerous suggestions on how impacts of tolls could be lessened, including toll discounts, improved transit, and maintaining the choice of a toll-free route.
“We appreciate all the specific suggestions and will continue to work with the community to create a system that works for us in Oregon,” Broussard said.
At a presentation in September, ODOT officials told the Canby City Council that the plans to toll I-205 could spike traffic on Highway 99E through Canby by as much as 40%.
“I’ll be honest with you: You’re dealing with a community that has a great deal of skepticism as to [your] real intent,” City Council President Tim Dale told the officials at the meeting.
“You’re dealing with a community that is going to look at your solution, which is to toll 205, as yet another example where Clackamas County is going to bear the cost of funds being diverted to Portland causes.”
The next steps for the project include conducting a detailed analysis of the benefits and impacts of tolling. The results of this analysis will be published for public review in a draft Environmental Assessment in 2022. A final decision is expected in 2023. Tolling on I‑205 would not begin before 2024.
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