After several months and half of a dozen meetings, a 25-member committee has put forth recommendations on moving forward with tolling on Interstate 5 and 205, with consensus pointing to smaller-scale implementation before full-on priced lanes from the state line south to the interstates’ junction.
The Portland Metro Area Value Pricing Advisory Committee convened for a final meeting June 25 where votes on proposals were made, which will be recommended to the Oregon Transportation Commission next month.
The committee had majority consensus on implementing two schemes: Concept B, which would toll all lanes of Interstate 5 from Going Street to Multnomah Boulevard, and a reworked version of Concept E, which would toll all lanes of the Abernathy Bridge on I-205 while looking at possibilities of pricing lanes west of the bridge out to Stafford Road once planned construction on the bridge and 205 were complete.
Though that plan had 10 of the committee members present voting in support of that plan, Washington’s committee members were split on favorability. WSDOT Southwest Regional Administrator Kris Strickler and Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle voted that they would “accept” such a plan — a choice in between outright support or opposition. They joined four other “accept” votes, though Clark County Councilor Eileen Quiring voted in opposition, one of two to do so.
Another vote focused on those two concepts as well. It stated the concepts would be part of a two-tier implementation where the second phase would feature a much broader scope — the entirety of both interstates from the state line to the southern intersection would be tolled. The committee vote had nine in support with four accepting of the plan, though five were opposed including all of the Washington committee members.
A more ambitious plan — going with the concept of tolling all lanes on both interstates from the state line south — had less of a consensus, with only eight members voting in support, one accepting of the plan and eight opposed.
Washington’s representation did manage to gain some footing regarding tolling implementation, as McEnerny-Ogle called for the addition of the language “entire regional bi-state system” regarding strategies designed to mitigate negative impacts by tolls, noting that C-TRAN was the only provider of interstate transit in the area.
Even with the change in language, committee members present voted in support of it, with Washington’s representatives voting to accept.
The committee’s votes didn’t sit well with U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, who issued a statement shortly after the meeting concluded. She took issue with the majority consensus on going with tolling all lanes of the interstates on the Oregon side of the metro area, saying that there were yet to be any concrete plans for improvements in the area.
“An afterthought about maybe, possibly studying providing a benefit to toll payers at some later date doesn't justify exploiting us as Oregon's piggy bank,” Herrera Beutler said in the statement.
The committee did speak generally about where the funding would go. Rian Windsheimer, representing the Oregon Department of Transportation, asked committee members for a consensus that the funds would stay local.
“We all agree that these funds should not be spent outside the region,” Windsheimer said.
The committee has said it could be potentially years before any tolls would be in effect. A roadmap provided to the committee showed half-a-dozen major milestones in implementation ahead.
Moving forward, the committee’s recommendations will go before the OTC in July in a special meeting alongside public comment. It will then move on to an August meeting where the commission will provide direction to ODOT. In November, the proposal will come back to the OTC for approval; it would then need to be sent to the Federal Highway Administration by Dec. 31 for approval.
Committee member Alando Simpson, also a member of the OTC, said the process was one of the most complex things the commission has encountered within the last decade.
“I’m optimistic that we are going to find solutions that are going to benefit all Oregonians, and Washingtonians at the same rate,” Simpson said.
Sean O’Hollaren, another OTC member, said that moving forward there needed to be more comprehensive assessment of traffic infrastructure outside of the two interstates. Though focused primarily on Oregon improvements, O’Hollaren did say he had learned much from the Washington contingent on the committee, acknowledging that they did not want to be forgotten regarding decisions that could potentially affect them negatively the most.
“Historically this was all the Oregon Territory, and we have one little river … dividing us,” O’Hollaren remarked. He mentioned how Washingtonians were just as eager to sit in traffic as Oregonians, but that for relief to happen there needed to be investment with all parties having “skin in the game” for it to work.
“It isn’t free. Creating capacity and addressing this issue costs money, and we are all going to need to be a part of it,” O’Hollaren said. He believed the commission would look at the issue in an equitable fashion, focusing on a user fee-based system that puts revenues toward improvements.