ODOT Shares New Details on I-205 Project that May Be Funded by Tolling

A new online open house is sharing information this month about the state’s proposal to widen and seismically upgrade a seven-mile stretch of Interstate 205 from Stafford Road in West Linn to Highway 213 in Oregon City — a project that may also involve tolling as a means of funding and controlling congestion.

This bottleneck — the last remaining two-lane stretch of I-205 — is one of the most congested in the state, with more than 100,000 vehicles passing through each day.

Drivers experience nearly seven hours of traffic backups here on a daily basis, the Oregon Department of Transportation says, significantly impacting regional and state economic activity.

The proposed project would add a third travel lane in each direction on I-205, upgrade the interchanges at Highway 43 in West Linn and Highway 99E in Oregon City and improve the Abernethy Bridge and eight other spans to withstand a major earthquake.

As part of this project, ODOT is planning tolling as a way to raise revenue and manage congestion on the interstate — though the proposal has proven wildly unpopular and has been vocally opposed by leaders in Canby — which, studies indicate, would bear the brunt of the “congestion” that tolling would force off of I-205.

In a presentation last September, ODOT officials admitted their models suggested adding tolling gantries to at the Abernethy Bridge would spike traffic on 99E through Canby by as much as 40%.

At the same time, though, ODOT says the reduced congestion on I-205 would reduce crashes and daily congestion by almost five hours each day.

Information the state transportation authority released this week says that the proposed upgrades to the Abernethy Bridge would make it the first earthquake-ready interstate structure across the Willamette River — making I-205 a passable north-south route through the Portland region after a major earthquake.

In a separate release, the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners also weighed in on interstate projects throughout the region Thursday — including the I-205 widening project.

Chair Tootie Smith said the county desires to be a leader in the discussion, which will have a tremendous impact on those who live and work in Clackamas County.

“Regional conversations are happening about how our transportation system will be funded that will significantly affect the residents of Clackamas County,” Smith said. “We need to be a leader at the table and ensure the needs of our residents and businesses are represented.”

The county acknowledged the need to bridge funding gaps for interstate improvements caused by depleted transportation funding at the state and federal level—] due to declining gas tax revenue.

And the idea of tolling both I-205 and Interstate 5 did not come from nowhere. The Oregon Legislature specifically directed ODOT to study and implement tolling on these corridors in the Keep Oregon Moving Act of 2018.

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Rather than taking a binary position of supporting or opposing the tolling proposal, commissioners have adopted a “values-based approach” they say will allow the county to be more proactive and nimble as discussions progress.

The values adopted by the board prioritize equity, safety, a vibrant economy, health and active communities, climate action, disaster resilience, and the reliable movement of people and goods.

“Most everyone is against tolling,” said Vice Chair Paul Savas. “No one wants to pay for something they believe they are already paying for just to go to work or take their kids to school.

“However, if the legislature insists on tolling or congestion pricing, Clackamas needs to be in a leadership position to assure our residents receive benefit for the toll they pay. These values should get us there.”

Legislators are currently considering the means of funding the proposed I-205 upgrades. Project construction could begin as early as next year.

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