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Portland Region Officials Begin Work On Congestion Pricing Tolling Plan


Amid concern about the Portland area’s growing road congestion, a key committee met Monday to begin putting together a tolling plan for the region.

The Oregon Department of Transportation advisory committee is set to come up with a plan by June for using tolls to help alleviate congestion.

ODOT officials say Interstate 5 now faces about 15 hours of delay on weekdays, while Interstate 205 typically has daily tie-ups for about 10 hours. Mandy Putney, an ODOT major project manager, says congestion is projected to double by 2040.

Sean O’Holleran, a Nike executive who serves on the Oregon Transportation Commission, said this won’t be an easy problem to solve.

“With the investment we have, there is no way we’re going to pay our way out of congestion,” he said after the group’s first meeting. “And we have to look at all the tools available, whether it’s congestion pricing, adding capacity, increasing transit options.”

The advisory committee is supposed to deliver recommendations to the transportation commission by June 2018. The next step is to seek federal approval for a congestion pricing plan by the end of next year.

O’Holleran said that congestion pricing has worked well in the Seattle area and in several other cities around the country. But he said one of the advisory committee’s jobs will be to see if tolling is viable on I-5, I-205 or both in the Portland area.

There are a number of congestion pricing programs that could be set up under federal rules. Richard “Trey” Baker, a consultant from Austin, Texas, said the tolling programs aren’t always big money-makers.  Sometimes, he said, their major role is to encourage people to seek alternatives to driving alone in their vehicle during rush hours.

Phil Ditzler, a regional official for the Federal Highway Administration, talked up the value of congestion pricing as a way to both smooth out demand and raise revenue for additional capacity.

However, it’s clear there are a number of cross-currents. Clackamas County Commissioner Paul Savas said many of his constituents don’t have good alternatives to driving.

“I’m hoping there is more of an emphasis on capacity,” he said, “that we have more of a means of investing in growth in this region.”

Officials from Southwest Washington said they also wanted to make sure their constituents aren’t unfairly hit by fees. Clark County Commissioner Eileen Quiring, one of the three Washingtonians on the advisory committee, said there are about 75,000 people from her county who commute across the Columbia River into Oregon.

At the same time, there are also members of the advisory committee who say they want to make sure low-income commuters are protected. And activists opposed to a major I-5 improvement project in Portland’s Rose Quarter urged the committee to focus on congestion pricing and investments in such things as transit.

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