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Officials worry that West Linn will bear brunt of proposed highway tolling systems

PAMPLIN MEDIA FILE PHOTO - Among the possible scenarios being evaluated by the Portland Metro Area Value Pricing Committee is a new tolled lane on I-205 running east-west from Stafford Road to the Abernethy Bridge. West Linn residents have never been shy about speaking up when it comes to transportation issues.

But it's difficult to share your thoughts if no one is asking, and that was what concerned West Linn City Council President Brenda Perry when she attended a Feb. 28 meeting of the Portland Metro Area Value Pricing Committee — the regional group charged with evaluating potential tolling scenarios on Interstate 5 and Interstate 205.

The committee was formed in response to the 2017 transportation package — HB 2017 — that was passed by the Oregon Legislature and mandated the state to submit a tolling proposal to the Federal Highway Administration by the end of 2018. At the Feb. 28 meeting — the third such gathering since the committee formed last November — a tolling project team presented five tolling options, three of which would impact West Linn in some way, according to Perry.

The first involved tolling on I-5 just south of the Oregon-Washington border; the second would toll all lanes of I-5 through the downtown Portland area; a third would toll all lanes of both I-5 and I-205 running from the Washington border down to Tualatin and Oregon City; the fourth would create a new tolled lane on I-205 running east-west from Stafford Road to Oregon 99E (including the Abernethy Bridge); and finally a fifth option would create a single toll location on the Abernethy Bridge.

"Three of those involve (tolling in) West Linn," Perry said. "But the others would involve West Linn as well, because people might avoid the 5 and go up the 205 instead."

Perry shared her concerns during public testimony at the Feb. 28 meeting, and she said only one other West Linn resident was in attendance. In her eyes, this was not a result of apathy but rather a lack of public outreach.

"West Linn is not being consulted; all of the meetings are being held elsewhere, either in Portland or even in Clark County, which is in Washington state," Perry said. "People are just not aware in West Linn that this is going on, and it's a big concern."

And the clock is ticking — the committee is expected to hold three more meetings before making a final recommendation at the end of June. The next meeting is slated for April 11 from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. at a location to be determined.

"They haven't come down here, and I asked for them to come down and hold a meeting," Perry said. "I don't feel like they're looking at other options ... this committee was tasked to only look at tolling for those two roads, so it's a very limited design."

Clackamas County Commissioner Paul Savas, who is the only representative of Clackamas County on the 25-person Portland Metro Area Value Pricing Committee, has also expressed concerns about both public involvement in the tolling decision process and the "diversion" effects tolling might cause on local streets if drivers avoid the highways.

"If I-5 and I-205 are tolled, how many motorists will use local roads to avoid paying tolls? Diversion is not a new phenomenon; as a result of growing congestion it is already occurring in the Portland-metro region," Savas wrote in a Feb. 18 op-ed piece for the Clackamas Review. "Due to the complexity and impacts to our citizens, I have encouraged local officials to support efforts to expand the study period and allow the public more time to consider the impacts."

The West Linn City Council, meanwhile, is drafting a letter to submit to the committee that will address its concerns about the process and tolling proposals.

"Wake up and take notice, because this is like a runaway train," Perry said.

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