OPINION: Tolling to encircle Oregon 'like a military blockade'
It's now or never to speak your mind. We're about to lose the Oregon we love and cherish. ODOT has adopted an aggressive new revenue-collection strategy to tax motorists on our once-free roads. The "genie" is out of the bottle. Your choice is to tell the Oregon Legislature enough is enough or to reallocate your personal finances to pay for using Oregon roadways that already were paid for with taxpayer money.
Greg Johnson, a joint appointee for ODOT and its Washington-state equivalent as the administrator of the I-5 Infrastructure Bridge Replacement Program, recently stated that the time is right to move forward with this project given the availability of billions of dollars from both states involved and Washington, D.C.
However, he said, new funding would be needed for ongoing maintenance costs.
Mr. Johnson said no final decision has been made for maintenance funding but tolling is being considered. He said he wanted to hear from the public before any final decision was made on tolling. Sound familiar? Those living is Clackamas County heard these same hollow words on the I-205 tolling proposal.
We were surveyed, voiced our concerns at public hearings, wrote letters, worked with our representatives and ODOT went completely against the will of the people.
When ODOT was criticized for not listening to Oregonians, they responded by saying the decision was the Oregon Legislature's and they were just "following orders."
It's possible that Mr. Johnson believes the tolling decision is still up for discussion, but it's more likely he's trying to ease the public into a decision already made by the Oregon Legislature. I, for one, am tired of the Legislature working on their hidden agendas while appearing to be open-minded and deceiving the public about their true intentions. We deserve to be told the truth. We deserve to be included in the final decision.
Oregon is also looking at tolling the Glenn Jackson Bridge, so don't think you'll be able to bypass I-5 tolling by taking I-205 to Washington. I predict that ODOT's tolls soon will encircle the entire Portland metro area, like a military blockade, aimed at collecting tolls from travelers in every direction. If anyone believes that tolling the I-5 and I-205 bridges isn't a foregone conclusion, then you're in for a big surprise.
The handwriting is on the wall. ODOT wants to keep all of the tax revenue that it currently collects and add multiple tolls and usage fees to collect more. Oregonians are not even given a chance to vote on these tolls.
With these aggressive plans, I can envision future tolls on I-84 heading east, on Highway 26 heading west to the coast, on Highway 26 heading east to the mountains and on I-5 heading south. ODOT could further limit access to more popular recreational venues like they've done at Multnomah Falls and the Columbia River Gorge Recreation Area.
Just a few years ago, these policies would have been unthinkable; today, they're moving faster than a runaway freight train. It's time to pull the "STOP" lever.
I'm not sure how ODOT became such a formidable agency in Oregon, but I think it's time that we let them know that they work for Oregonians, not vice versa. We need to limit ODOT's power to unilaterally toll our roadways before they become too expensive to use. Oregonians deserve a say in their road taxes.
Bob Rubitschun is an Oregon City resident.
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