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Legislative action set goals for freeway congestion, targeting I-205 in Clackamas County

SPOKESMAN PHOTO: LESLIE PUGMIRE HOLE - The estimated cost of widening of Interstate 205 from two to three travel lanes in each direction from Stafford Road to the George Abernethy Bridge, including seismic reinforcement of the bridge built in 1970, is $450 million. Clackamas County Commissioner Paul Savas says he is a skeptic of tolling, but adds that the right choice could be part of a broader plan to ease regional traffic congestion.

But Savas, who sits on a panel advising the Oregon Transportation Commission about tolling, says tolling alone is insufficient.

"If we are going to grow by 2 million people, we are not going to do it with our existing system," Savas said Monday, Nov. 20, after the panel met for the first time. "We need more capacity."

Metro population projections in 2014 put that growth at 600,000 more people by 2040 — Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties account for 1.75 million currently — but Savas has said he thinks they will be exceeded.

He has backed a widening of Interstate 205 from two to three travel lanes in each direction from Stafford Road to the George Abernethy Bridge. The cost, including seismic reinforcement of the bridge built in 1970, is estimated at $450 million.

The 2017 Legislature stripped funding for that work when it scaled down a transportation package — it did direct the Oregon Department of Transportation to jump-start design by February — but the same bill also requires ODOT to submit a tolling plan for I-5 and I-205 for federal approval by the end of 2018.

Savas also is vice chairman of the Portland Area Commission on Transportation, which advises ODOT, but was not speaking for that group.

The official name of the tolling panel is the Portland Region Value Pricing Advisory Committee.

Tolling comes in several forms, and Savas says he is more open to the concept of express lanes that toll-paying motorists could choose to use during peak traffic hours.

"I agree with some of the public comments that this should not be punitive, it should bring value. I think we need to demonstrate value," he said. "Frankly, I'm coming into this (advisory process) skeptical about pricing people for its own sake without offering solutions."

About 60 percent of Oregon's I-205 length of 25 miles runs through Clackamas County, and the rest through Multnomah County, before I-205 crosses the Glenn Jackson Bridge on the Columbia into Washington state.

With between 7,900 and 13,100 trucks daily, I-205 is second only to I-5 in truck traffic.

According to a report presented to the tolling panel by Mandy Putney, ODOT major projects manager, hours of congestion and daily vehicle hours of delay on I-205 have jumped from 2013 to 2015. The actual numbers for I-205 are less than the comparable figures for I-5, but the percentage increases are far greater.

Of six congestion points identified by ODOT on I-205, Putney said all worsened during the period. The two worst were the Glenn Jackson Bridge and the George Abernethy Bridge; the latter has only two travel lanes and an exit lane in each direction.

Putney said despite planned spending from the Legislature's 2017 transportation package and other sources, current congestion trends are likely to worsen.

"Projects alone are not going to solve our congestion problem," she said.

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