The Oregon Department of Transportation is moving forward with plans to add tolling to Interstate 205 and I-5 in the Portland metro area — both likely coming within the next five years.
The state will first implement the tolls on I-205 at the Abernethy Bridge in the vicinity of Oregon City and West Linn — with the fees there taking effect as early as 2024.
The proposals have been deeply unpopular among both the general public and state and elected officials. Online portals the state set up to collect feedback attracted nearly 5,000 comments — most of them in opposition — and a presentation last September stunned the Canby City Council when ODOT representatives shared projections showing tolls could spike traffic on Highway 99E by up to 40%.
But ODOT officials have long insisted toll revenue is needed to complete improvements along a seven-mile stretch of I-205 from Stafford Road in West Linn to Highway 213 in Oregon City, including seismic upgrades that would make the Abernethy Bridge the state’s first earthquake-ready highway bridge across the Willamette River.
It would also fund the I-205 improvements Project from 99E to Highway 213, 10th Street to Sunset Bridge, Highway 43 to 10th Street, and 10th Street to Stafford Road, including reconstruction of the Tualatin River Bridge.
ODOT says it is still studying two tolling alternatives — with one of the alternatives being “no tolling.” A final decision by the Federal Highway Administration, in cooperation with ODOT, is expected sometime next year.
The tolling proposal would add gantries to both Abernethy and the Tualatin River Bridge, with the amount split between two location. ODOT says the earliest tolls could begin is in 2024. Though the Abernethy Bridge improvements are scheduled to begin construction next year, ODOT officials said tolling revenue could be used to pay back funds borrowed for the project.
The project will also add a third to the only remaining two-lane section of I-205 and is anticipated to reduce crashes and cut daily congestion by more than four and a half hours. This bottleneck is currently one of the most congested in the state, with more than 100,000 vehicles passing through each day.
ODOT’s Regional Mobility Pricing Project will toll the rest of I-205 along with I-5 from the Interstate Bridge at the Columbia River to the Boone Bridge in Wilsonville.
The tolls will run electronically, with sensors reading a small transponder attached to the windshield and bill a pre-paid account. If a vehicle doesn’t have a transponder, a camera will capture the car’s license plate, and the registered owner will receive an invoice in the mail.
ODOT says the program will use variable-rate tolls to manage congestion, meaning tolls will change throughout the day, with higher rates at peak hours.
The transportation authority is currently conducting an environmental review phase, which also includes assessing the impacts tolling will have by diverting interstate traffic onto secondary roads and highways.
It is also assessing whether improved reliability on I-205 will make highway bus service a viable option to improve the limited public transportation options between West Linn, Oregon City and the I-5 corridor.
ODOT expects lane closures to occur for two weeks in the summer and fall of 2022, 2023 and 2024. More lane closures may also be necessary when ODOT constructs a sound wall on the Oregon City side of the river in 2024.
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