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Les Poole: Clackamas County should not be guinea pig for 'pilot project' study that will be expanded statewide.

PMG PHOTO: KATE CAUDRADO - Councilors Rory Bialostosky, left, and Mary Baumgardner of West Linn, right, with Denyse McGriff and Adam Marl of the Oregon City Commission wore matching shirts to protest the ODOT groundbreaking of the Interstate 205 expansion with tolling plans.For decades tolls have been authorized by the Federal Transportation Administration to pay for expanding highway and bridge capacity. The tolls are eliminated when money borrowed for the projects is paid off. Les Poole

In 2017 the Oregon Legislature passed a huge transportation bill that authorized a study to relieve traffic congestion. It was the birth of a "value pricing" scheme that very few were aware of.

Years later thousands have awakened to ODOT's intention: charging tolls on existing highways, and placing the money in a slush fund for whatever the department wishes. The tolls would increase during heavy traffic times, forcing weary drivers onto local roads.

A section of I-205 that includes the bridge over the Willamette River has been chosen for a two-year "pilot project" study. At the end of two years ODOT intends to apply for permanent approval to charge tolls statewide.

Estimates of a $5 one-way toll on the bridge have been removed from the ODOT website and replaced with a statement that "drivers won't be surprised by the cost of the tolls" and "the cost cannot be determined until six months before the tolls take effect." Where is the transparency we deserve?

Hopefully the statewide initiative to require a public vote will qualify for the November 2024 ballot. It would provide an opportunity to confirm the 70% to 80% opposition revealed in polls done by ODOT and the local media.

Les Poole is a resident of unincorporated Clackamas County.


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