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Mayor Jules Walters said she wants to see agency's plans to mitigate rerouted traffic.

PMG FILE PHOTO - ODOT plans to toll I-205 in between Stafford Road and the Abernethy Bridge. As the Oregon Department of Transportation prepares to toll I-205 between Stafford Road and the Abernethy Bridge, residents in West Linn and other communities around the freeway are growing increasingly frustrated with what they say is ODOT's inability to address their concerns about increased local traffic the tolls could cause.

The department plans to implement tolls on I-205 between Stafford Road and the Abernethy Bridge in 2024 to fund expansion and seismic improvements of the freeway. The prospect of tolling on I-205 has been discussed as a solution to freeway traffic congestion for several years and was officially codified by House Bill 2017, which the Oregon State Legislature passed in 2018.

Throughout these discussions, residents and leaders in West Linn have decried the proposed tolls, arguing they would disproportionately impact West Linn.

One chief concern for community members is that the tolls would cause more drivers to get off the freeway, taking local thoroughfares like Stafford, Ek and Borland roads and Highway 43 to avoid paying. During peak traffic hours, these roads already are used by travelers trying to bypass congestion on I-205.

West Linn Mayor Jules Walters recently expressed frustration that despite years of sharing these concerns with ODOT, the state transportation agency has not proposed any solutions for mitigating traffic on local roads. Walters said that at a recent meeting of the I-205 Tolling Diversion Policy Committee, which she sits on, ODOT officials asked task force members what solutions they had.

"As the planners and engineers, I had hoped that ODOT's team would have had that figured out by this point," Walters said.

Mandy Putney, the strategic director of ODOT's Urban Mobility Office, said the agency is still identifying where traffic mitigation might be required as a result of tolls. As a next step, she said ODOT would work with local jurisdictions on mitigation strategies.

"We have to look at the unique characteristics of each intersection and location," Putney said.

She noted that adding turn lanes, traffic signals and multimodal improvements are all possible solutions that could help ease increased traffic.

As part of its preliminary work, ODOT has studied how adding a third travel lane (part of the I-205 Improvement Project) and implementing tolls could impact traffic around the region. In these studies, Putney said, ODOT has forecasted that some drivers who currently reroute from I-205 to local roads would actually return to the freeway after the widening and tolls go into effect, because of the decreased congestion.

Despite this thinking, ODOT has estimated that 19 local intersections would see worse traffic congestion when improvements are complete and tolling occurs.

However, ODOT has stated that only four of those 19 worsening intersections will require mitigation. Putney said ODOT is still working with local jurisdictions to get a better idea of how the other 15 intersections will be impacted and what mitigation strategies could help.

The four intersections ODOT said will require mitigation are Oregon Route 99E-15th Street and Oregon Route 99E-10th Street in downtown Oregon City, as well as the Stafford-Borland roundabout and the I-205 northbound ramp at Highway 43.

Four intersections on Stafford Road (Mountain, Childs, Johnson and Rosemont roads) also are expected to become more congested, along with the 12th Street and 10th Street intersections on Willamette Falls Drive. The McVey Avenue and A Avenue intersections with Highway 43 in Lake Oswego are expected to worsen as well.

Conversely, only two intersections are expected to improve during peak morning traffic and two more will improve during peak afternoon/evening traffic. The Highway 43 and Willamette Falls Drive and Oregon Route 99E and Lone Elder Road intersections should see improved conditions during the morning commute, while the Hidden Springs and Santa Anita intersection and I-205 southbound ramp at Highway 43 are expected to improve during the evening.

According to Putney, these estimates are based on local traffic patterns, models and driver behavior, as well as a driver preference survey that each aimed to pinpoint how many drivers would be willing to pay the toll, how many would adapt when they travel to pay a lower toll amount and how many would avoid the tolls as much as possible.

Environmental concerns

A lack of concrete mitigation strategies isn't West Linn's only concern about ODOT's tolling plans.

Kim Bria, a West Linn resident who serves on both the city's Transportation Advisory Board and Sustainability Advisory Board, pointed to the methodology of ODOT's {obj:62729:environmental analysis,} which states that no field tests would occur as part of the study.

Putney explained that ODOT did not use field tests because it relied on Department of Environmental Quality monitoring stations, which measure long-term pollutant concentrations.

Bria also expressed concern that ODOT's regionwide approach for studying air quality meant there was no way to look at air quality data for specific areas that might see increased diversion traffic due to tolling. She feared this would lead to cleaner air around I-205, but force the traffic-caused pollution into local roads and neighborhoods.

"The tolling project will lead to a safer freeway and less pollution from the freeway, but is it doing that at the expense of the communities adjacent to it?" Bria asked.

Putney said the environmental analysis follows standards from the Environmental Protection Agency.

"The air quality analysis covered the area of potential impact, but a more localized look at specific intersections was not conducted because this type of project would not cause an increase in any localized air pollutant concentrations to a level that the Environmental Protection Agency defines as harmful to human health," Putney said. "This analysis approach is consistent with EPA guidance, as emissions in the future are expected to be lower with the project than without the project, and, according to EPA attainment designations, the region has good air quality."

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