Despite pushback, I-205 tolls loom over Portland metro area
Despite years of objections from local officials and residents, tolls are coming to I-205 in the West Linn-Oregon City area.
Leaders from the two cities met with the Oregon Department of Transportation twice last week to discuss the I-205 improvement project and toll program, as well as a potential bike-pedestrian bridge.
In the next five years, ODOT will implement two tolling programs on the Portland metro region's major freeways, I-205 and I-5.
The I-205 toll project, which is expected to hit travelers in 2024 or 2025, will cover the seven-mile stretch of the freeway between Stafford Road and OR 213 and help fund construction of improvements along that corridor. ODOT's Regional Mobility Pricing Project will toll the rest of I-205 along with I-5 from the Interstate Bridge at the Columbia River to the Boone Bridge in Wilsonville.
Lucinda Broussard, ODOT's toll program director, told the West Linn and Oregon City officials her department was expecting federal approval of the Regional Mobility Pricing Project in 2024, with the tolls expected to hit travelers in 2025 or 2026.
West Linn leaders and residents have long lamented that tolling the Abernethy Bridge — which has been discussed at the state and local levels for several years — would unfairly impact West Linn.
One reason West Linn residents have opposed tolling is the extra diversion it would foreseeably create on local roads. During peak traffic hours, Stafford, Borland and Ek Roads and Willamette Falls Drive are often slowed by commuters cutting through town to bypass the I-205 bottleneck. Tolls, West Linn residents argue, would only make this diversionary traffic worse on local roads that don't have the capacity for it.
Broussard explained that both toll programs will use variable rate tolls, meaning rates will be higher during peak traffic hours and lower during off hours. ODOT won't know the actual rates until about six months before the programs begin, when the Oregon Transportation Commission sets the prices.
Broussard explained that though the toll rates will be variable, they will not be dynamic or based on real-time traffic at a given moment. This means Portland travelers should not see the exorbitant toll rates sometimes seen in other metropolitan areas, she said.
ODOT officials also explained that the tolls will run electronically with sensors, meaning drivers won't need to stop and pay at a toll booth.
Cameras will capture a tag, transponder or license plate on your car and send an invoice through the mail, Broussard explained.
According to Broussard, the toll funds generated from the Regional Mobility Pricing Project will pay for The Urban Mobility Office's core projects, transit and multimodal transportation options, neighborhood health and safety (getting to hospital as well as diversion and safety) and affordable travel options for low income people. Tolls collected on a particular corridor will stay on that corridor, funding projects in the same area, thanks to a recent mandate from the transportation commission, she added.
West Linn Councilor Rory Bialostosky and Oregon City Commissioner Adam Marl noted that the I-205 improvement project is only projected to last until 2028 and asked what tolls collected after the project would be used for.
Broussard answered that the transportation commission will decide if the tolls are discontinued after the project or if they go on in perpetuity.
The I-205 improvement project, which will add a third traffic lane in both directions between Stafford Road and OR 213 and retrofit the bridges along that stretch to withstand a major earthquake, will take place in phases, with the first phase of construction set to begin next year.
Ryan Windheimer, Region 1 Manager for ODOT,explained that provisions of House Bill 3055, which passed the Oregon Legislature this year, laid out funding options for Phase 1A. That initial phase will see seismic improvements to the Abernethy Bridge, road widening between 10th Street in West Linn and OR 213, interchange improvements and addition of a roundabout at the OR 43 exit.
HB 3055 allows ODOT to short-term borrow and bond against the $30 million transportation funds previously approved by the Legislature four years ago through HB 2017.
"Ultimately we expect that toll revenue will be a payback source for the short-term borrowing," Windheimer said.
Project Engineer Allen Hendy said the work will require installation of temporary bridges in the Willamette River, which will allow crews to drill for the new Abernethy Bridge foundations.
ODOT expects lane closures to occur for two weeks in the summer and fall of 2022, 2023 and 2024. More lane closures may also be necessary when ODOT constructs a soundwall on the Oregon City side of the river in 2024.
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