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City Council directs Portland Bureau of Transportation to study local 'congestion pricing' alternatives.

PORTLAND TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - The City Council also supports tolling I-5 and I-205 in Portland.Portland could impose tolls on the bridges across the Willamette River and such heavily used roads in the city as 82nd Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

The City Council unanimously directed the Portland Bureau of Transportation to study the use of such tolls to reduce congestion and generate funds for transportation projects last Wednesday. PBOT will work with the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability on the study. The local tolls would be in addition to those the council said should be imposed on the portions of Interstate 5 and I-205 in Portland.

During the hearing, Mayor Ted Wheeler and Transportation Commissioner Dan Saltzman made it clear they support such tolls. The concept is very controversial, however. Republican Washington state U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera has introduced legislation in Congress to block the Oregon freeway tolls. Portland-area newspapers are receiving letters and emails opposed to them, including the Portland Tribune.

When such tolls increase during peak travel times, they are called "congestion pricing" or "value pricing." The strategy, which tends to reduce traffic when it's more expensive to drive during rush hours, has been adopted in a number of cities, including London, Stockholm, New York and Seattle.

PBOT Director Leah Treat testified the region must invest more in transit for congestion pricing to work, however.

"Congestion pricing and transit options must go hand in hand," Treat said.

The 2017 Oregon Legislature directed the Oregon Department of Transportation to study freeway tolls as part of the statewide $5.3 billion transportation funding package it approved. The council also directed PBOT to study ways to reduce the impact of tolls on lower-income resdients. PBOT was directed to report the results of its study back to the council within a year.

According to the resolution approved by the council, traffic congestion grew four times faster than the population in recent years, hurting the economy and threatening council-approved goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Much of the testimony before the council concerned ODOT plans to rebuild the I-5 and I-84 interchanges in the Rose Quarter to reduce congestion and improve safety. The interchanges often are backed up 12 hours a day, ODOT says. Saltzman said the state should try tolling before it moves forward with the freeway expansions.

"Let me be clear, in my opinion, congestion pricing should happen in these corridors before any shovels break ground," Saltzman said.

A variety of transportation and environmental organizations testified in support of the resolution, including the Port of Portland, Portland Walks and the Oregon Environmental Council. Opposition came from members of the group No More Freeway Expansion, who said the council needs to more forcefully oppose the state's Rose Quarter plan.

Oregon Public Brodcasting is a news partner of the Portland Tribune and contributed to this story.

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