A small crowd gathered at the Oregon Department of Transportation's I-205 Improvements Project Groundbreaking Celebration at Clackamette Park on the morning of July 22.
Elected officials who oppose the project attended to hear ODOT officials celebrate the new plan taking effect.
Several speakers from ODOT presented, alongside members of the Metro Council and Clackamas County commissioners.
The main goal of the I-205 Improvements Project is to expand I-205 to minimize congestion and add significant structural changes to the Abernethy Bridge so it can withstand potential natural disasters such as seismic earthquakes that threaten Oregon due to the Cascadia Subduction Zone.
"For decades bottlenecks on our interstate system have impacted Oregonians' access to jobs, their families, their way of life," said ODOT Director Kris Strickler. "And while we all know we will never build our way out of congestion, there are some improvements in key areas that are necessary, especially where population congestion and crashes have steadily increased over the years."
While the project seeks to improve I-205, many worry about the potential negative effect this project will have on the community it is made to support. The project will be funded by a toll placed on all lanes of I-205, which opponents believe will deter drivers from using the highway and instead turning to side streets to get where they need to go. Additionally, the toll was placed without a regional vote, a decision that certain community members found unfair.
"What we're proposing is a right to vote," said former Oregon City Urban Renewal Commissioner Paul Edgar, who is also an advocate of the No Toll Army, a grassroots group focused on moving forward a petition to provide a regional vote before tolling.
"We are trying to talk through things and we realize that there are differences of opinion," Chair of Oregon Transportation Commission Bob Van Brocklin said. "That's healthy in a democracy, and we look to continuing that dialogue."
Two city councilors from West Linn and two commission members from Oregon City came to the event to express their opposition to the tolling of I-205.
"They were preaching collaboration and dialogue and listening the entire time without putting that into practice as it relates to tolling," Oregon City Commissioner Adam Marl said.
The tolling will cost an average of $85 a month, according to Edgar.
"It's impossible to ignore that the people who can afford this the least will be impacted the most," West Linn Councilor Mary Baumgardner said.
However, the Oregon Transportation Commission (OTC) has yet to assign the cost of the tolling, and do not plan on beginning tolls for at least two more years.
While supporting the project's goals of earthquake-proofing the bridge, the method of funding the project through tolls is the central opposition against the project.
"We have presented a number of examples to ODOT around the country where projects like this have been funded and did not rely on tolling every lane," Clackamas County Commissioner Paul Savas said.
Construction on the project has officially begun. There is no set construction end date as of right now.
"We need ODOT to continue to listen to impacted voices, commit to genuine public processes and recognize the burden the current funding proposal has placed on our community," said Tootie Smith, chair of the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners.
The OTC is hosting a community feedback period until August 15 where community members can give feedback on the bridge and I 205 improvements. This can be found on the "get involved" tab of the ODOT website in a form.
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