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The Street Trust to ODOT: Don’t use pricing revenue to make driving easier

Posted by on April 24th, 2018 at 10:27 am

Congestion relief.
(Photo: J. Maus)

If left to their own devices, it’s very likely that any money raised by the Oregon Department of Transportation via decongestion pricing (also known as value pricing or congestion pricing) would be funneled right back into projects to make driving easier.

That would be a very bad move. Portland-based non-profit The Street Trust has launched a petition to encourage ODOT to do otherwise.

“Tell ODOT,” the petition headline reads, “Get Serious About Traffic and Invest in Transit, Biking, and Walking.”

Here’s the rest of The Street Trust’s call to action:

Building wider highways will not reduce traffic congestion. Instead, we can use congestion pricing as a method to reduce the number of cars on our streets and invest in better choices like walking, bicycling, and public transit. By following the example of cities like London, Stockholm, and Singapore, we can reduce traffic congestion and lead the nation in making it safe and easy to get around without a car. Congestion pricing must avoid negative impacts on low income people with options like rebates and increased transit.

We call on the Oregon Department of Transportation to use congestion pricing to reduce cars on our streets and fund a sustainable vision for the future of our city.

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The Street Trust (whose Advocacy Director Gerik Kransky is on the Value Pricing Committee) has reason to be worried.

As per House Bill 2017, the transportation funding and policy package that passed last year, net proceeds from decongestion pricing must go into a newly established pot named the Congestion Relief Fund. While you might think the best way to relieve congestion is through better land-use, transit service, and good bikeway networks — ODOT and state legislators don’t. When they hear congestion relief, they think of wider freeways, more lanes on freeways, bigger ramps on and off freeways, and so on.

The largest expenditures in HB 2017 (which ODOT calls the Keep Oregon Moving program) are “congestion relief” projects that will widen Interstates 5, 205, and Highway 217. The I-5 Rose Quarter project itself will get $30 million per year starting in 2022.

If advocates have any hope of allowing decongestion pricing revenue to be spent on better bus service or bikeways, they’ll have to decouple the idea that “congestion relief” is synonymous with “freeway project.” This campaign by The Street Trust is likely just the start in a much larger battle that will unfold in the weeks and months to come as the Value Pricing Committee finalizes its recommendation to the Oregon Transportation Commission. That’s expected to happen this summer.

Learn more about ODOT’s decongestion relief policy and process here.

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

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Kiel Johnson (Go By Bike)
Member

ODOT’s idea of congestion relief was the Mt. Hood freeway. We need to be loud and clear that it is time for a leadership and cultural change at ODOT. Thank you to the Street Trust for continuing to shine the spot light on this out of control freeway construction company.

Hello, Kitty
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Hello, Kitty

Using the money to bolster other forms of transportation makes a lot of sense, but it would be political suicide. Congestion pricing will be very unpopular regardless, but “giving our money to bikes” will make it utterly untenable.

David
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David

This campaign really seems to add to the picture that The Street Trust was either steamrolled or outmaneuvered in this transportation bill. Yes, they managed to secure funding for Safe Routes to School specifically and transit more generally but it ostensibly came at the price of a sales tax on (pretty much all, with the update earlier this year) new bike sales, minimal new funding for bike-related projects, and failing to direct any proceeds from congestion pricing to projects that would actually relieve congestion (transit or bike).

Todd Boulanger
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Todd Boulanger

Sadly, I do not think that ODoT (or Oregon legislature) can sell the initial concept of roadway pricing other than as a “[roadway user] congestion reduction” …especially in a state that has no modern history of roadway tolling or other congestion pricing programs (other than legacy ferries)…my recommendation would be to tweak it either through legislative process (allow ODoT region 1 / areas with a population ~> 600k to use the funds for all types of congestion relief) or administrative (update the definition of congestion to address all forms of solutions).

Tom
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Tom

This is why its a terrible idea. It penalizes the poor who have less options to live near work, then uses the money to only create even more car dependence, trapping them further. When people complain about the charges, ODOT will say its what the active transport group wanted, thus triggering bike-lash. Its a loose loose loose for everyone except the rich and ODOTs anti active transport agenda.

John Liu
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John Liu

Let’s get a sensible congestion pricing system in place (value pricing, tolling, whatever you want to call it). Then we can fight the unnecessary freeway projects (while, I hope, admitting that there are some necessary ones).

soren
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soren

From the ODOT site:

Under the Oregon Constitution, State Highway Fund fees and taxes must be spent on roadway projects, which could include travel lanes, bicycle and
pedestrian facilities, or transit improvements such as enhanced transit stops.

After reading that statement it’s hard to imagine a scenario where ODOT would spend this new revenue in a manner that would promote transportation equity.

SD
Subscriber

As if spending money on anything besides highway construction decreases the money that flows through ODOT.

truthseeker
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truthseeker

I used to vote democrat, but switched to republican because of people like you…

I like to drive because it is my freedom — you all want to take away our cars, or atleast take away our roads and make us pay for your bike lanes