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Oregon House bill would prohibit tolling on I-205

(Source: ODOT)

A group of seven lawmakers want to rewrite existing law and prevent the Oregon Department of Transportation from establishing a tolling system on Interstate 205, unless all the funds to go widening the freeway.

When the Oregon Legislature passed House Bill 2017 (“Keep Oregon Moving”) in 2017 they directed the Oregon Transportation Commission (OTC, the advisory body the oversees the Oregon Department of Transportation) to create a tolling program and implement it on I-5 and I-205. Now several years into the project, lawmakers want to put an end to it. House Bill 2629 would expressly prohibit the OTC from tolling I-205, “unless the toll is used to pay for construction of additional lanes.”

ODOT is mandated by HB 2017 that any funds raised through tolling must go into a Congestion Relief Fund; but that fund isn’t limited to adding lanes on freeways. The Oregon Constitution says revenues from motor vehicle taxes and fees are to be spent on “roadway” projects which can legally include not just highway and driving projects, but infrastructure for bicycling, walking, or transit service.

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The bill is sponsored by six republicans and one democrat: Rep. Christine Drazan (R – Canby); Rep. Daniel Bonham (R – The Dalles); Rep. Mark Meek (D – Clackamas County); Rep. Mike Nearman (R – Independence); Rep. Bill Post (R – Keizer); Rep. E. Werner Reschke (R – Klamath Falls); and Rep. Jack Zika (R – Redmond).

ODOT wrapped up a major public comment period on the I-205 tolling project in mid-December of 2020 that found, “A majority of respondents across all demographic groups expressed strong opposition.” In a statement from the agency, Toll Program Director Lucinda Broussard said, “Clearly there is more work to do. The comments we received from the community demonstrate the confusion around this type of tolling, which makes sense considering this has never been done before in Oregon.”

Following the release the public opinion report, outgoing Gladstone City Councilor Neal Reisner wrote an op-ed in the Portland Tribune where he urged people to contact legislators and tell them to stop the I-205 tolling project. He claimed ODOT has a, “spending problem, not a revenue problem” and that tolling is a, “scheme to force people out of their cars and into public transportation”.

Barring the passage of this bill (which is unlikely given the strong Democratic majority in the legislature), ODOT is set to make a decision on which tolling alternative to implement and finish the federal environmental analysis process in 2022. If all goes according to plan the system should be collecting tolls by 2026. Learn more on ODOT’s website.

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