Clackamas County stops short on tolling opposition
Clackamas County officials say they are taking a "values-based approach" rather than outright opposition to tolling in recognition that ODOT has the "existing authority to implement tolling" and continues advancing the concept.
County commissioners this week adopted the set of "values" to guide how transportation in the metro region should be funded. The one-page document issued Thursday, April 15, stopped short of calling on the legislature and Oregon Department of Transportation to divert their focus from potential plans to implement tolls.
County officials see ODOT's plans as a stop gap against declining gas tax revenue which would typically fund projects such as the widening of Interstate 205 and renovation of the Abernethy Bridge.
Instead of opposing the proposed tolls completely, county commissioners are calling on lawmakers and ODOT to give the county certain assurances that local motorists will reap the benefits of the tolls they pay and that these efforts prioritize certain principles such as equity, safety, health and disaster resilience among others.
"Most everyone is against tolling," said Commissioner Paul Savas, "No one wants to pay for something they believe they are already paying for just to go to work or take their kids to school. However, if the legislature insists on tolling or congestion pricing, Clackamas needs to be in a leadership position to assure our residents receive benefit for the toll they pay. These values should get us there."
The document outlines 13 points that the board believes are critical to ensuring Clackamas County residents' best interests as the legislature and ODOT approve road funding. Some of those recommendations include mundane guidance such as supporting the timely allocation of funds to construct projects with statewide significance as outlined in the Keep Oregon Moving transportation package of 2017 and supporting necessary improvements to accommodate projected growth. Others cut to deeper issues like elevating engagement with people who have historically been left out of transportation policy conversations such as low-income families and local communities of color. Establishing viable transportation alternatives in areas where service is currently inadequate is another guideline that hits on underlying issues Clackamas County leaders have harped on over the past two decades as public-transit options in Multnomah and Washington counties have far outpaced their southern neighbor.
On tolling specifically, the list of values ask that any tolling or "congestion pricing" never occur on any one specific stretch of the interstate system prior to implementation across the entire system as to avoid economic disadvantages or unfairly burden certain communities and businesses.
County guidelines request that safe and efficient evacuation routes are upgraded and ready for potential natural disasters such as earthquakes and wildfires — which are persistent threats to the residents of Clackamas County, who have dealt with three major events in under a year.
Lastly, the county list asks state policy makers to consider how they might mitigate impacts on Clackamas County's smaller roads if congestion pricing or tolling causes diversion of traffic onto its surface streets, and how health, safety and equity might be impacted by that.
At the bottom of the document, the board included a disclaimer saying that it is not an endorsement or acceptance of any proposal to implement tolling or congestion pricing on I-205, as the county believes it will have a disproportionate and detrimental effect on Clackamas residents, businesses and visitors.
""Regional conversations are happening about how our transportation system will be funded that will significantly affect the residents of Clackamas County," said County Chair Tootie Smith. "We need to be a leader at the table and ensure the needs of our residents and businesses are represented."
Clackamas County lawmakers including House Minority Leader Rep. Christine Drazan, R-Canby, and Rep. Mark Meek, D-Oregon City, have signed onto a bill that would prohibit the Oregon Transportation Commission from implementing any toll on I-205 unless its used to build additional capacity. The bill — HB 2629 — was referred to the legislature's joint committee on transportation back in January where it hasn't seen any movement. Nevertheless, the bill remains alive following the April 13 deadline for a work session due to it being assigned to a joint committee.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.