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Here are the wheres, whats, whens and whys of the fees coming soon to Portland's roads.

COURTESY GRAPHIC: ODOT - A map of the toll strategy from the Oregon Department of Transportation.Oregon will see its first road tolls about two years from now.

Everyone knows about the proposed tolls coming to the Portland metro area — but many of the details floating around have been only rumors.

Here's everything you need to know about what ODOT has planned for the tolls, from where they will be, to how they will work, to why the transportation system needs a new source of funding, according to an ODOT announcement Nov. 18.

Hannah Williams, community engagement coordinator with the Oregon Toll Program, and Mandy Putney, director of strategic initiatives with the Urban Mobility Office commented on the project.

Where tolls will be

The tolls will appear along the Abernethy Bridge in Oregon City and the Tualatin River Bridge in Clackamas County, under the umbrella of the I-205 Toll Project.

Tolls also are expected along the rest of I-205 in the metro area, and the I-5 corridor, under the umbrella of the Regional Mobility Pricing Program.

However, the exact spots where tolling would begin and end have not yet been decided.

"There will be tolls set for Abernethy and Tualatin bridges and also toll rates on I-5 and I-205 to help pay for improvements and seismic improvements," Williams said.

All travel lanes would be tolled under the proposal, according to ODOT.

How much tolls will cost

The exact price of the tolling has not yet been determined, nor the exact times of days the tolls will be collected, according to ODOT.

However, it has been decided that there will be a low-income program implemented from day one.

"We are creating a low-income toll program. There are a lot of concerns about how people experiencing low-income are going to pay the toll," Williams said. "We really want to do this right, and we want to make sure our low-income program is not difficult to sign up for and people know about it. We have advisory committees made up of members of underrepresented communities providing guidance on these recommendations to center on equity and mobility."

Williams said there have been a lot of conversations, survey responses from the public, discussion groups, liaisons with community-based organizations and community liaisons as well as interviews with social service providers to generate well-rounded information to share with ODOT and the Oregon Transportation Commission.

Congestion pricing also has been decided upon, meaning that rush hour could see increased toll prices or a variable rate throughout the day. However, the hours will be decided ahead of time, so drivers will know what to expect before heading out.

Currently, the planning model includes large trucks being charged higher toll rates than passenger vehicles.

According to ODOT, the exact toll rate pricing will be based on congestion relief goals, revenue needs and public input. The exact pricing is expected to be announced about six months before tolls begin.

How tolls will work

To collect toll fees, there is a sticker program — there is no plan for cash windows, meaning traffic will not slow down.

This means drivers can register their car for a windshield sticker, which is scanned as the car passes under the toll infrastructure, and billed online.

If a driver doesn't have a sticker set up, the toll infrastructure will take a temporary photo of their license plate, and send the bill to the snail mail address registered to that vehicle.

Putney said tolls are a "pay-for-what-you-use approach that we see in everyday life, such as utility bills."

"Tolls are a tool used around the country. We know this is a proven way to help solve some of our traffic problems," Putney said. "We see with tolling, especially when used with other tools, the result is reduced congestion. We're not sitting in traffic jams, and we're seeing fewer crashes."

Williams said Oregon already is seeing congestion problems, not only on the freeways but along the local roads.

"Everyone is seeing there is a lot of congestion, and there are concerns it's going to get worse, and what it will look like in the future," Williams said. "We're already seeing a lot of congestion on local roads. With using congestion pricing and tolling for congestion relief, we're looking to shift some of those trips back onto the freeway, without the freeway being so backed up. Being able to have that predictable trip, keeping people moving and not in gridlock … they'll come back to the freeway, instead of speeding through local roads because they're in a hurry."

When tolls will start

The first tolls could appear along the I-205 corridor in the fourth quarter of 2024 at the earliest near the Abernethy and Tualatin River bridges in Clackamas County —the I-205 Toll Project.

As for the Regional Mobility Pricing Project along the I-5 corridor and the rest of I-205 in the metro area, tolling is expected to start in late 2025.

According to ODOT, a final decision is expected in spring 2023 — after the environmental review process is completed.

Why Oregon needs tolls

Williams said the state has some big problems in its regional transportation system.

"For safety, for congestion, we need a sustainable revenue source, so one of the tools for this is tolling," Williams said. "Conversations about this go all the way back to 2006."

Putney said Oregon needs tolls to fund the maintenance and modification of its transportation systems.

"We are going to have more people trying to get to and from destinations in the future —more people on the move," Putney said. "We also know we don't have roads and bridges that will be able to sustain travel during a Cascadia-level earthquake. We need to modify our systems to allow us to continue to move during and after such an event in the future. We also are seeing higher construction costs for our projects."

ODOT found construction costs of its highway and bridge projects jumped 20% from 2021 to 2022. On top of that, the gas tax, a former major funding source for transportation, has not kept up with inflation — and vehicles are becoming more fuel efficient, as well.

"Tolling is also a sustainable funding source we really need," Putney said. "It's a source of funds to upgrade and modernize our roads and bridges, especially in the metro region; increase our ability to fund safety initiatives; collectively help Oregon reach climate goals; and support state businesses and economy."

According to ODOT, Portland is ranked No. 11 in the U.S. for most traffic congestion. Current congestion costs the Oregon economy $1.2 million per day already, and with the region expected to grow 23% in population by 2040, daily congestion along I-205 alone is expected to jump up to 14 hours per day, ODOT found.

However, with ODOT's planned tolls and roadway improvements, drivers commuting between Gladstone and Tualatin along I-205 should see travel times reduced by up to 50%. This means paying the toll could reduce travel time by 15 minutes.

Learn more, give input

Citizens and commuters are invited to give feedback and weigh in with public comment on the Regional Mobility Pricing Project, open now through Jan. 6, and for the I-205 Toll Project during the first quarter of 2023.

"There's been an extensive amount of ongoing conversations with community partners as we work together to develop our toll projects," Putney said. "But we are looking for special examples and requests as part of this comment period, to weigh in on what's important for them, and ask questions about congestion, safety, equity and fairness related to the low-income program, and how traffic patterns might change in the future. Those will all be part of the work as we go forward."

Upcoming toll webinars are scheduled for 11 a.m.-noon {obj:67513:Nov. 29} and 4-5 p.m. {obj:67514:Nov. 30}, ODOT is expected to present the toll projects to the Legislature's Joint Committee on Transportation on Dec. 9.

Learn more at oregontolling.org.


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