Saltzman backs away from demand for congestion pricing on I-5 at Rose Quarter

“We don’t want it [pricing] as a poison pill for the entire project. We want to be at the table with them [ODOT] as the process happens.”
— Matt Grumm, senior policy advisory for Commissioner Dan Saltzman

Just three months ago Portland City Commissioner Dan Saltzman was seen as a bulwark against the I-5 Rose Quarter project. Since then he has completely backed away from his insistence that congestion pricing be implemented before any lanes are added to the freeway.

The State of Oregon and the City of Portland are itching to spend $450 million to add lanes to I-5 and make changes to surface streets around the Rose Quarter. The project faces staunch opposition. Many of the critics think widening a central city freeway in 2017 is a bad idea and before doing so, it makes sense to implement congestion pricing. If people have to pay to use the freeway, the thinking goes, perhaps demand will decrease so much that current traffic problems will disappear and we’ll save millions of dollars.

On September 1st, Saltzman agreed with them. Three months later, not so much.

Saltzman’s initial statement on this issue was clear. He wanted to, “Include congestion/value pricing before the project breaks ground to ensure maximum congestion relief and overall environmental benefits.” That statement was heralded by transportation reform advocates and especially the group No More Freeways PDX. It put Saltzman on the other side of the Oregon Department of Transportation who has made it clear they don’t feel this section of I-5 is the right place to try congestion pricing.

Fast forward to October 18th when the project came up at a City Council work session and it was clear Saltzman was beginning to sing a different tune. We noted how his language had changed from wanting congestion pricing “before the project breaks ground” to “prior to the opening” of the project. Saltzman said he didn’t want to see the entire I-5 Rose Quarter project “fall by the wayside” because of an insistence on congestion pricing. Saltzman, Mayor Ted Wheeler, and high-level PBOT planning staff all agreed that they want congestion pricing; but no one was willing to draw a line in the sand around this particular project.

This Thursday (11/30), Saltzman plans to introduce a resolution (PDF) at City Council that will further codify Portland’s strategy for congestion pricing. The resolution doesn’t even mention the Rose Quarter and it makes no point at all about timing.

Here’s the language:

“Direct the Portland Bureau of Transportation to work with the Oregon Department of Transportation to implement the Oregon State Legislature’s “value pricing” on I-5 and I-205; and to work with the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability to research and evaluate best practices for congestion pricing strategies”

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This change in tune from Saltzman hasn’t gone unnoticed by the No More Freeways PDX group. They’ve issued an action alert and are urging people to show up on Thursday to support an amendment that would require congestion pricing before the project moves forward.

In an interview today, Saltzman’s Senior Policy Director Matt Grumm said their shifting stance is a result of learning more about the I-5 Rose Quarter project. Grumm said Saltzman fully supports the project in large part because of how it will invest in surface street, non-freeway improvements. “We want this project to happen. We have no problem with adding two lanes and shoulders for a quarter-mile if they add the [freeway] caps and restitch together the neighborhood above,” he said. “It’s a good project that we need to support.”

Grumm admitted their initial statement about pricing seemed, “A little too aggressive.” “We don’t want it [pricing] as a poison pill for the entire project,” he added. “We want to be at the table with them [ODOT] as the process happens.” In addition to giving ODOT the “political backing of the largest city in the state,” Grumm said the council resolution is meant to spark local planning and policy work to make congestion pricing throughout our system more of a standard procedure in the near future.

When asked about the idea that pricing traffic through the Rose Quarter before adding any new lanes might save millions of dollars and negate the need for additional lanes altogether, Grumm said Saltzman just doesn’t see it that way. “Congestion pricing would help minimize congestion, but that doesn’t minimize the need for a shoulder.” Grumm added that he feels not having a place to pull a car over for breakdowns on a freeway is “ridiculous.”

This project has become a Rorschach test. To Saltzman and others who support the project, it’s a benign operational improvement to the freeway with much-needed improvements to surface streets as the cherry on top. Those who oppose it see something far more ominous: a mega-freeway project we can’t afford that will make driving even more popular and convenient. As always, the truth is likely somewhere in the middle.

Learn more:

I5RoseQuarter.org — ODOT project page
ODOT Portland Region Value Pricing Committee (meets next on December 7th).
Should Portland try congestion pricing? It might be able to avoid a $450 Million dollar mega freeway expansion – Sightline, 11/28/17
➤ Watch a brief interview about congestion pricing with the Director of the City of Stockholm Transportation Department Jonas Eliasson — Streetfilms, 11/28/17

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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Doug
Doug
5 years ago

There ARE usable shoulders under the Broadway, Williams, and Weidler bridges. The only places there aren’t usable shoulders to pull over are at the north end of the project, adjacent to where the northbound on-ramp merges, and where the southbound off-ramp separates, and the 3-2 narrowing at that point. So, at most, the Vancouver bridge would need to be rebuilt to get those shoulders.

That said, in cities where they really do freeways, like LA, there are many spots on the systems where shoulders disappear for hundreds of feet at a time. People deal with it. In my years in LA, I never saw someone crash into a stopped car on the shoulder. And there’s certainly never been a fatality on this stretch of I-5 because of that.

rick
rick
5 years ago
Reply to  Doug

A Portland police officer sustained serious injuries on I-5 with bright, flashing lights while responding to a car crash where someone had already died. A person driving a vehicle crashed into the police car. This took place over the most recent November weekend.

rick
rick
5 years ago
Reply to  Doug

Check the documents and detailed investigations. “deadly car crash freeway shoulder”

Tony Jordan (Contributor)
Reply to  rick

What bearing does that have on this discussion? The article says the crash occurred near the Marine Drive overpass, which appears to have a shoulder and is no where near this project.

rick
rick
5 years ago

Freeway shoulders are needed for something besides through-car lanes unless used for mass transit like C-Tran lately.

paikiala
paikiala
5 years ago
Reply to  Doug

I recall one or two motorcyclists that had stopped under one of the overpasses during a downpour, and were struck by a vehicle.

Doug
Doug
5 years ago

The surface street improvements don’t add more freeway crossings. They replace one (Flint), with another one (Benton). Otherwise, the crossings, and pedestrian facilities stay the same, or get worse (removing the sidewalk on the west side of Vancouver, e.g., and creating new conflicts between pedestrians and freeway on- and off-ramps)

Catie Gould (Contributor)
Catie
5 years ago
Reply to  Doug

+1 crossing. New East-West bridge at NE Clackamas.

paikiala
paikiala
5 years ago
Reply to  Catie

Ped-bike bridge.

eawriste
eawriste
5 years ago

Congestion pricing works. The idea was unpopular in Stockholm until its citizens saw the effects.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1CwB1fcRJ60

rick
rick
5 years ago

Weaksause.

GlowBoy
GlowBoy
5 years ago

“Saltzman, Mayor Ted Wheeler, and high-level PBOT planning staff all agreed that they want congestion pricing; but no one was willing to draw a line in the sand around this particular project.”

Which means congestion pricing won’t happen. These officials are the only people in a position to directly demand it from ODOT.

Middle of the Road Guy
Middle of the Road Guy
5 years ago
Reply to  GlowBoy

Political career over unpopular policy.

Peter W
Peter W
5 years ago

Congestion pricing is not a “poison pill”.

It’s a “diet pill”.

Matt
Matt
5 years ago
Reply to  Peter W

It’s a sanity pill.

Social Engineer
Social Engineer
5 years ago

Congestion pricing needs to be a comprehensive solution, not just a slapdash implementation on an isolated stretch of I-5 that ignores the realities of our transportation network and the ways that drivers would circumvent tolls by using I-405 and local streets instead.

Unlike the I-5 proposal, you’ll notice that London and Stockholm both use pricing cordons around their central business districts where transit options are most available, and that’s the type of solution that deserves more serious consideration in Portland.

Bald One
Bald One
5 years ago

Right, just put it on each major Highway near the entrance to Portland: on both Columbia river bridges @ I5, I205; US 26 at Sylvan; I84 west of 205 merges; I205 at Clackamas; I5 at at 217 merge. Draw a circle around Portland, put a toll on each major Interstate inbound. Operate it during peak hours, as needed.

Tom Hardy
Tom Hardy
5 years ago
Reply to  Bald One

Correct bald one! First a restriction to all thru semi,s from Tualatin northbound and I-5 and I 205 southbound at the Columbia bridge. No through semi trucks on I-5 northbound to Washington and NO southbound through semi’s across the I-5 bridge from 5:30 AM to 7:30 PM Weekdays.

eawriste
eawriste
5 years ago
Reply to  Tom Hardy

The Move NYC plan has bipartisan support as well as support from a lot of organizations with the exception of De Blasio. It charges once upon entry from what I have gleaned from the plan. This allows businesses, eg delivery trucks, to avoid multiple charges on routes. As for semis it may be prudent to follow the same sort of approach in the city center or provide freight lanes on I-205.

chris m
chris m
5 years ago
Reply to  Bald One

To have congestion pricing make sense you can’t just charge people when they enter the congested area. You also need to charge people who live at, say, 65th and Weidler and want to take 84 into downtown.

Of course many of the areas you describe (the Columbia bridges, the Tunnel) represent chokepoints for traffic so congestion pricing there makes sense on its own merits. But in terms of reducing cars overall in the city just tolling entrance points isn’t sufficient.

paikiala
paikiala
5 years ago
Reply to  Bald One

Ever seen Hwy 30 at Bridge during rush hour? Or NW Cornell? W Burnside? Barbur? There are multiple entry paths into Portland other than the major freeways that commuters will use as alternatives.
I believe London uses license plate readers to track/toll those entering.

Dan A
Dan A
5 years ago
Reply to  paikiala

So people will have to choose between paying for fast freeway travel or sitting in heavy traffic on an alternate route? Isn’t that what congestion pricing is all about?

Bald One
Bald One
5 years ago
Reply to  paikiala

I like license plate readers for tolling. We need a smart solution that captures 95% of the “willing” participants with ease and little cost. Going after the remaining few % scofflaws will not be worth the return on investment.

Is your argument that tolling in the highest use highway areas is like putting in a diverter on a bike route – it will just increase cut through on other streets? I agree with this only a little bit – freeway traffic is more regional and has more complicated cost/benefit analysis for each individual auto operator and highway user. Not everyone could exit I5 at the same time and place to avoid a toll.

El Biciclero
El Biciclero
5 years ago
Reply to  Bald One

Wouldn’t we rather toll exits into the city from the major freeways? It seems more “fair” to let through traffic through, and only charge those who are entering the city core surface street network. Charging a toll to stay on the freeway seems more like just a freeway toll rather than true “congestion” pricing (if there’s a difference). Pricing could be variable by time of day and by exit ramp, depending on how much we wanted to influence car routes.

RH
RH
5 years ago

Portland is like a kid you meet that has so much potential….then you meet his/her parents and realize that greatness will ever happen.

Todd Boulanger
Todd Boulanger
5 years ago
Reply to  RH

“ever” or “never”

RH
RH
5 years ago
Reply to  Todd Boulanger

Sorry…’never’

eawriste
eawriste
5 years ago
Reply to  RH

So next times Hales or Hales 2.0 attempts to get (re)elected, remember how many times they mention specific streets and projects with protected bike lanes.

mh
5 years ago

We elected a coward with no principles.

SD
5 years ago
Reply to  mh

Mild mannered bureaucrats that notch their belts with inconsequential political victories are Portland’s abusive boyfriend that they can’t break up with.

soren
soren
5 years ago
Reply to  mh

With all due respect, Portland has always had a love affair with corporatist conservative democrats. It is the most conservative city I have ever lived in.

https://www.britannica.com/topic/corporatism

Catie Gould (Contributor)
Catie
5 years ago

The freeway caps will not stitch the neighborhood back together. They are not planned to be build-able. ODOT claimed to make the caps build-able (for businesses, housing, etc) it would be more disruptive to the neighborhood. It will still be a large empty space to cross, with maybe a few plants. Similar to a large empty parking lot.

The “public plaza” planned for one of these caps is the block in between the busiest streets Broadway/Wielder with freeway on-ramps and off-ramps on 3 of the 4 corners. I cant think of a worse location for a park. Not suitable for children to cross the street. Residents deserve better than these street improvements.

Buzz
Buzz
5 years ago
Reply to  Catie

I-5 never ‘severed’ the neighborhood in this area, the steepness of the bluff in this location prevented ever connecting the east-west streets between Russell and Broadway in the first place.

Buzz
Buzz
5 years ago
Reply to  Buzz

I agree, but that’s different, it has nothing to do with the street grid they are proposing to change with these so-called ‘improvements’.

Anyway, ODOT isn’t proposing to compensate for historic injustices, they are proposing to widen the highway, period.

B. Carfree
B. Carfree
5 years ago

If ODOT wins this and congestion pricing doesn’t happen here and now prior to shovels in the ground, it simply won’t happen in any meaningful way for so long as to be absolutely irrelevant.

This is quite literally an existential battle between good and evil. ‘Tis a pity evil has the numbers and the seats of power at this critical time at what is looking more and more like the end of human history, or at least civilized humanity.

Rob
Rob
5 years ago

Can we step back from shrill, dug-in positions? The detailed design is not started so there is not anything near a firm price. Meanwhile the congestion pricing committee hasn’t started its work, so there is not a congestion pricing plan which will subsequently need to be approved. Finally, all the tolling technical infrastructure would need to be put in place. Saltzman will be out of office before any of the above is done.

Sigma
Sigma
5 years ago
Reply to  Rob

Nope. This is unadulterated virtue vs. pure evil. Didn’t you read the comment above you? It is really that simple.

Buzz
Buzz
5 years ago
Reply to  Rob

We don’t want a ‘detailed design’, we want ODOT to stop their BS.

ray
5 years ago

Saltzman voted to let Uber and Lyft into Portland. When it came time to investigate Uber for their ‘greyball’ scandal (where they intentionally misled public officials to avoid punishment/regulation) Wheeler appointed Saltzman (the only person left who voted for UBER, because Novick and Hales were gone), who concluded that even though Uber was GUILTY, they said they were really really sorry and they’d never do it again so therefore they shouldn’t be punished. Now this? Expletive YOU Dan Saltzman, don’t let the door hit you on the way out. Ray (former PDX cab driver)

Christopher of Portland
Christopher of Portland
5 years ago

Does anyone on city council walk or ride a bike through the Rose Quarter?

Buzz
Buzz
5 years ago

LOL!

Tom
Tom
5 years ago

Wimp

Mike Sanders
Mike Sanders
5 years ago

Chris makes a valid point. Have the City Council and the ODOT people actually gone out there to see the traffic patterns with their own eyes, rather than focusing on documents? Bike Portland should take them there to see what they’re actually working with here. Might open up some eyes (and minds).

Mike Quigley
Mike Quigley
5 years ago

Why is this I-5 Rose Quarter project continually being discussed when there is no money coming from anywhere to build it?

Doug Allen
Doug Allen
5 years ago
Reply to  Mike Quigley

You missed HB 2017 from last session that allocates new gas tax money to pay back bonds that will be sold to pay for a lot of this. Meanwhile, “flexible” federal funds are being used to plan this waste of resources, money that could be spent for bicycle, pedestrian, safety, and transit purposes.

Dan A
Dan A
5 years ago
Reply to  Doug Allen

I’d guess that these amazing road caps and ‘walk/bike improvements’ they are selling as part of the plan will come out of our allotted funds for bicycle infrastructure.

Steve B.
Steve B.
5 years ago
Reply to  Mike Quigley

$30 million a year starting in 2022 thanks to the new Transpo bill. That amount alone probably won’t cut it, I imagine additional funds will be required and sought. Remember the CRC “process” blew through $200 million without a single shovel in the ground.

J Chris Anderson
J Chris Anderson
5 years ago

I would bet you dollars to donuts that this has something to do with his post council employment plans.

Buzz
Buzz
5 years ago

ODOT is already working on this, I’ve seen their surveyors working in the area and other signs of activity.

John Liu
John Liu
5 years ago

If this part of I-5 isn’t the right place to use congestion pricing, then where is?

rick
rick
5 years ago
Reply to  John Liu

The SW Hills of SW Portland.

John Liu
John Liu
5 years ago
Reply to  rick

Freeways run through the SW Hills?