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COLUMN: Kris Strickler's KEEP OREGON MOVING

The Oregon Department of Transportation is rethinking how we improve traffic in the Portland Metro Area.

COURTESY PHOTO: WSDOT - Toll booths like this once existed on the Interstate Bridge between Oregon and Washington (this picture was taken in 1965, and the booths were removed in 1966). The tolling program being created by the Oregon Department of Transportation would look nothing like this and would rely on electronic tolling.Toll booths in the middle of the road. Traffic backups. Searching for scattered change in your car cup holder (or glove compartment or car floor). These are just some of the old images people think of when they hear the word "toll."

However, these past scenes don't match the reality of a smart, equitable, and modern toll program that actually reduces traffic congestion. As the State of Oregon and ODOT take vital steps in developing a vision and plan for the future of transportation on both the Interstate 205 and Interstate 5 corridors, a new toll program would be a critical component to bettering the quality of life for all Oregonians.

Our communities are growing, and traffic is worsening on roads throughout the region. This means commutes seem never-ending, bottlenecks slow the movement of freight and necessary services, and cars are idling longer, creating more emissions and contributing to climate change.

Yes, cars are becoming more fuel-efficient, and many people are switching to all-electric vehicles (both good things), but this means the revenue from traditional sources like gas taxes isn't enough to sustain critical infrastructure improvements.

Traffic bottlenecks on I-205 at the Abernethy Bridge, on I-5 in the Rose Quarter, and at other points north and south are estimated to cost our region millions of dollars per day. On top of that, drivers who are tired of sitting in traffic are using neighborhood roads throughout Multnomah and Clackamas counties, causing further congestion in our local neighborhoods.

These challenges mean we need innovative solutions to create a better transportation future.

Under the proposed I-205 Toll Project, tolls near the Abernethy Bridge and on the I-205 bridge over the Tualatin River would raise revenue to fund portions of the project and manage traffic congestion on this section of the highway. The I-205 Improvements Project will make the Abernethy Bridge and other I-205 bridges earthquake-ready. The project will also address the bottlenecks that the remaining two-lane section of I-205 is causing by adding a third lane in each direction, helping relieve congestion and improve safety.

No slowing down for a tollbooth

Unlike those old images we all have of tolling, this new program would consist of an all-electronic system that would automatically collect tolls from vehicles traveling on the corridor. No toll booths in the middle of the road. No traffic backups. No stopping to pay a toll or search for change. An electronic toll sensor over the road would send signals to automatically scan a transponder (a small sticker) placed on the car's windshield.

The transponder would be connected to a pre-paid account to electronically collect the toll fee without a vehicle having to stop. If a vehicle doesn't have a transponder, a camera would capture the car's license plate, and the registered owner would receive a bill by mail.

Drivers would pay only for the trips they take, and the cost would be higher when the roadway is busiest to encourage drivers to make fewer trips during these busy times of day, therefore reducing congestion and ensuring a more reliable trip for those who really need to travel at that time. Drivers would know the cost of the toll based on a set schedule, so travel decisions could be made before leaving home or work.

KRIS STRICKLERThe I-205 Toll Project — in conjunction with another toll program project called the Regional Mobility Pricing Project also under development by ODOT — would provide the following benefits:

• Improve travel time and increase reliability, safety, and efficiency, including reducing truck travel times, which contribute to cost-savings through more reliable shipping times.

• Help us meet our climate goals by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and fuel consumption by lessening traffic congestion.

• Establish a new, sustainable, and more reliable funding source for transportation improvements.

• Incorporate strategies to address community needs for transit, multimodal transportation (such as biking, walking, and rolling), equity, affordability, health, and safety.

Right now, ODOT is evaluating how tolls on I-205 could benefit and affect communities. This information will be published in spring 2022 for everyone to review and to provide input before final decisions on tolling are made. Toll collection could start as early as 2024.

We want your feedback! We want to hear about what you are looking for in a toll program so we can work to ensure the toll program serves all Oregonians. Through community meetings, online surveys, and direct feedback, we are working to build a toll program that works well for our entire region.

Please visit oregontolling.org to learn more about the I-205 Toll Project and connect with the project team.


Kris Strickler is director of the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT). Comments can be directed to 888-Ask-ODOT or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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