Opinion: ODOT pedestrian bridge is tolling 'consolation prize'
ODOT's proposed bike/pedestrian bridge between Oregon City and West Linn is another example of its non-essential priorities.
What's more important? Having the ability to use the I-205 Abernethy Bridge without paying a toll, or having the ability to walk and/or ride a bike across a new pedestrian bridge? ODOT is studying having a $2 toll just to cross the I-205 bridge in peak hours. If you had a choice to get across the Willamette River and not pay a toll, would you choose to reroute to the old Oregon City-West Linn Arch Bridge, or get on a bike or walk and use a new pedestrian bridge? How many of the approximately 105,000 to 110,000 average daily crossings of the Willamette River on the I-205 bridge will choose to reroute their trips?
If you need to use more of the I-205 corridor out to the Stafford interchange, the proposed toll would be an additional $4. Would you reroute to other roads just to stay away all of these proposed tolls? What is called the Toll Diversion Factor is made up of those who will reroute attempting to find a less costly way, which is estimated to be close to 40% -- those who would drive between 10 to 15 miles out of their way to avoid paying a toll.
A non-essential bike/ped bridge could be bonded with a local vote of the people, who would determine if it is important and worth it. We in Clackamas County could play hardball like people in Portland, where they get everything for free, like moving a whole school and capping the I-5 Corridor at the Rose Quarter.
U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden said that it is not fair to toll this section of the I-205 Corridor, but the governor and the Legislature voted to toll us, and it is like they want to give us a consolation prize in a non-essential pedestrian bridge paid for from tolling us to use the I-205 Abernethy Bridge. I hope no one who reads this has a business in and around Clackamas County, as this proposed tolling will hit the economy hard and the brick-and-mortar retail businesses the hardest.
There is not a lot of toll revenue that even can be reinvested. ODOT plans to hire an out-of-state company to administer tolling collection, and they historically get about 30% of the gross revenue off of the top. ODOT and Metro will take between 10% and 15% in new staffing hires, and then the next 10% to 15% will fund investments into non-road, highway or bridge needs; it is to go to things like an Equity and Mobility Advisory Committee for projects to level the playing field for a percentage of the population that has been found to have been inequitably treated in their lives. This also funds bike paths, trails, and yes, the new bike and ped bridges.
ODOT has a team of people determining who are low-income and plans to give them a paid pass to use the toll roads. TriMet proposes building a new Southwest Corridor Light Rail Transit Line and needs local money from our paying these tolls, and that could take between 5% and 10% of the gross toll revenue. We might even see some new bus routes coming into West Linn and Oregon City, so that we don't have to use our cars. Historically all of these things have increases in cost and that drive toll rates up and up. Seattle's toll bridge has shown this ability to squeeze more money out to pay for all of these non-essential, feel-good projects. Whatever is left over from the toll revenue will go to pay for the I-205 Improvement Project and bond interest. However, people who are just citizens like you and I are planning an initiative petition that would require a vote of the people in the immediate area to approve or disapprove of any proposed tolling. So, watch for information on notoll.army.
Paul Edgar is an Oregon City resident.
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