Activists call for public input on incoming tolls
Tolls are coming. Around the Portland metro area, it's a question of where.
The "No Toll Army," a grassroots group, held a rally earlier this month off Highway 43 near the Oregon City Bridge earlier this month, calling for the public's right to vote directly on implementing new tolls.
"This sort of tolling, as soon as you put it in one place, it's just going to creep and grow," West Linn-based organizer Dean Suhr said. "I don't think citizens know tolling is coming, but as soon as we talk to them, they're interested. The tolls aren't going to offset any congestion. They will just price out and burden the poorest drivers."
Suhr named Highways 217 and 26 in Washington County among routes he thinks could see tolls in the future.
Already, officials are moving toward tolling Interstate 205 in between Tualatin and Oregon City.
Sometime next year, the Federal Highway Administration will decide if the Oregon Department of Transportation can implement variable-rate tolls on I-205 on the Abernethy and Tualatin River bridges.
Tolls were first authorized by the state in a 2017 transportation bill.
Proponents say the revenue is needed to continue supporting infrastructure projects, while critics like Suhr say tolls unfairly burden poor drivers.
Sometime in 2024 or 2025, ODOT expects to instate tolls on Interstates 5 and 205. State and regional officials are looking into a congestion-pricing model instead of a flat rate.
State Rep. Susan McLain, D-Forest Grove, who co-chairs the Legislature's transportation committee, points out that routes that could be tolled are major east-west and north-south connectors with a lot of commercial traffic. Public transit isn't an alternative for those heavy vehicles.
"If you look across the country, any major system that brings in both transit and infrastructure for interstate commerce has a toll road," McLain added."This is not rocket science. It is not like we're doing something on the cutting edge by introducing these congestion prices."
The ODOT estimates revenue from the state fuel tax in 2020, currently 36 cents per gallon, was on average around 15 percentage points lower than 2019.
Metro Councilor Juan Carlos González says he hopes any revenue from tolling or congestion pricing will support alternatives to "fossil fuel" transportation.
"The issue right now everywhere and for the Portland metro area is we don't have enough revenue to pay for our transportation system. Currently, it comes down to what funds it, like the gas tax, which is steadily in decline — which is a great trend, because we're decreasing our carbon footprint," González said. "But at the same time, it's impacting revenue for the system."
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