It’s not easy to make an Oregon Department of Transportation official sound like a progressive on any transportation issue; but that’s exactly what U.S. Congressman Peter DeFazio did at a House Transportation Committee hearing in Washington D.C. yesterday where the veteran lawmaker’s skepticism around congestion pricing was on full display.
Before the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) can begin any kind of congestion pricing on existing freeways, they must first submit a proposal to the Federal Highway Administration. At their monthly meeting in Salem today, ODOT’s governing body voted 5-0 in favor of that 48-page plan, marking a major step in the future of tolling in the Portland region.
It’s a rare chance to speak directly to the most powerful transportation policy-setting body in the State of Oregon on an issue that could have immense impact on our future.
In Portland this Thursday the Oregon Transportation Commission (OTC) will host a listening session on congestion pricing. The special event comes after six meetings and eight months of deliberations by the Portland Metro Area Value Pricing Feasibility Analysis Policy Advisory Committee (PAC). The 25-member PAC delivered its final tolling recommendation to the OTC on July 5th.
That recommendation (image below, PDF here) consists of an initial pilot program and a longer-term plan to be phased in later. Here’s how it would work: Tolls would be levied in two places; all lanes of I-5 between SW Multnomah Boulevard and the N Going/Alberta exit (exact termini would be decided later), and across the Abernethy Bridge on I-205 (known as concepts “B” and “Modified E”). When/if those are successful, the next step would be to toll all lanes of I-5 and I-205 from their intersection near Tualatin (south of Portland) to the Columbia River (concept C).
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:[Read more…]
“Significant congestion will exist in 2027 on the I-5 and I-205 study corridors, even with all the improvements listed in the Regional Transportation Plan.”
— from a report published by ODOT as part of their Value Pricing Feasibility Analysis
The ODOT Files is our attempt to keep you informed of stories from around the web that illustrate how our state transportation agency is falling down on the job.
The latest entry into the ODOT Files is a story by Dirk VanderHart published today in the Portland Mercury: A New Report Shows Highway Widening Won’t Solve Portland’s Congestion Woes.
The piece centers around ODOT’s Value Pricing Advisory Committee, a group of advocates, electeds, and transportation leaders tasked with determining whether or not we should toll highways — and if so, how exactly it should be implemented. The central tension here is that ODOT wants to build lots of new highways (including an expansion of I-5 through the Rose Quarter) and there’s increasing political and public demand to consider tolling them before — or instead of — building them.
Then there’s the fact that expanding highways does not relieve congestion. And based on the Mercury story, even ODOT’s own analysts are trying to tell them that:
For most other services, when demand soars, the price increases. But not with our freeways. Is it time for us to pay more for using our limited road resources?
The Oregon Department of Transportation has started a process that will help them decide if, when, where and how to implement congestion pricing — which they refer to as value pricing.
ODOT is acting on a directive from House Bill 2017 that passed the Oregon Legislature last year. It directs the Oregon Transportation Commission (OTC, the governor-appointed body that controls ODOT pursestrings) to seek approval from the Federal Highway Administration by December 2018 to implement pricing on I-5 and I-205. The bill specifically called out the sections of both freeways in the Portland metro region.
At this stage in the process, ODOT is conducting a “feasibility analysis” to determine the best location(s) to implement pricing and what the impact of doing so would be. Late last month they held three open houses around the region and since January 23rd they’ve had an online open house where anyone can learn more about the issue and share their experiences and feedback. That online open house is only open until this Monday, February 5th. If you haven’t checked it out yet, please try and make some time before it’s too late.
This just in from the Oregon Department of Transportation:
ODOT plans community conversations on congestion pricing for I-5 and I-205
The Oregon Department of Transportation invites public input on the use of congestion pricing to help improve travel times and reliability on Interstate 5 and Interstate 205 in the Portland metro area.
The public is invited to share their experiences with congestion and views on congestion pricing at three upcoming open houses in Clackamas, Multnomah and Clark counties as well as an online open house that will be available for nearly three weeks, Jan. 17 to Feb. 5.
Congestion pricing, also known as value pricing or variable rate tolling, refers to tolling options that are specifically designed to improve traffic flow. Congestion pricing systems charge higher prices for driving on a road when demand is greater, in the morning and evening rush hours, for example. Some drivers choose to travel on other routes, at different times of the day or on other modes of transportation. Communities across the US have found these tools effective in improving traffic conditions and enhancing travel time reliability.
Here is the schedule for the community conversations and the online open house.
— Tuesday, Jan. 23, 4:30 to 7:30 p.m., Clackamas Town Center Community Room (Level 1 near Buckle and across from Macy’s), 12000 S.E. 82nd Avenue, Happy Valley
— Saturday, Jan. 27, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., Lloyd Center (Level 1 between Ross and the ice rink), 2201 Lloyd Center, Portland
— Tuesday, Jan. 30, 4:30 to 7:30 p.m., Vancouver Community Library, 901 C Street, Vancouver.
The Online Open House will be active at odotvaluepricing.org. The public can see materials, view video recordings of the project Policy Advisory Committee meetings and leave comments for the project team.
The open houses will be informal, drop-in events with ODOT project team members stationed throughout the room to provide materials, discuss the options and answer questions.
During the open houses, the public will get a chance to:
— Share their concerns about congestion on I-5 and I-205 in the region and its effects on people and freight movement
— Learn about the types of congestion pricing concepts that are being considered
— Provide feedback on the potential benefits and also challenges associated with congestion pricing.
ODOT’s community conversations will help to inform the Policy Advisory Committee in its work to prepare a recommendation for the OTC. On Feb. 28, the PAC will hold the third of six planned meetings. The project team will present the feedback received through Feb. 5 via the website, associated questionnaire and in-person community conversations to help inform the PAC’s consideration of congestion pricing concepts for further analysis.
A second phase of public input will take place in March, which will focus on specific concepts being considered for development of congestion pricing on I-5 and I-205.
The Oregon Legislature last year approved HB 2017, Keep Oregon Moving, which committed $5.3 billion to a wide range of transportation investments, and also directed the Oregon Transportation Commission (OTC) to pursue federal approval for value pricing along Interstate 5 and Interstate 205 from the state line in the north to where the two roads meet south of Tualatin.
The OTC established a Policy Advisory Committee to help inform their implementation of congestion pricing. The PAC includes representatives of local governments in Oregon and Washington, the business community, highway users, equity and environmental justice interests, and public transportation and environmental advocates. It is scheduled to prepare a recommendation for the OTC this summer. By Dec. 31, 2018, the OTC will submit its value pricing proposal to the Federal Highway Administration.
“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.
“I’m fully cognizant of the fact that [congestion pricing] may not happen before this project and I certainly don’t want to see this project fall by the wayside because of that.”
— Dan Saltzman, City Commissioner
As the Oregon Department of Transportation tries their best to move forward with a project to widen Interstate 5 through the Rose Quarter, there remains broad support from experts, activists, insiders — and even politicians — that charging a toll to drive on the freeway is the most sensible way to respond to congestion concerns.
But until last week it had been all talk and posturing. That was before City Commissioner Dan Saltzman (who oversees the Portland Bureau of Transportation) drafted an amendment to an action item on the project in the Central City 2035 Plan. At their October 18th work session on the plan, Portland City Council agreed with Saltzman on an idea we first reported on back in September: That ODOT must implement congestion pricing on I-5.
But the devil is in the details. When would the tolls start? Would they be legal? How committed is the City of Portland to congestion pricing on I-5? Are they willing to risk the entire project if it doesn’t happen? [Read more…]