Comments on I-205 Toll Project Environmental Assessment
Eric Fruits, Ph.D.
Cascade Policy Institute
Submitted to the
Oregon Department of Transportation
April 6, 2023
FWHA should require an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the I-205 Toll Project
I am requesting that the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) make a finding of significant environmental impact regarding the Oregon Department of Transportation’s I-205 Toll Project (“the Project”). The Environmental Assessment (EA) excludes significant cumulative impacts and misrepresents the economic benefits of the Project.
FWHA should require an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Project to include the cumulative effects of ODOT’s Regional Mobility Pricing Policy (RMPP) and, possibly, the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program (IBRP).
Exhibit 1 (attached) shows the Interstates to be tolled under the Regional Mobility Pricing Project alongside the transportation and economic Areas of Potential Impact under the I-205 Toll Project. It is clear from these figures that the RMPP’s Areas of Potential Impact will entirely overlap the I-205 Toll Project’s Areas of Potential Impact.
ODOT has arbitrarily chopped up its tolling projects into three pieces, in part to avoid the scrutiny of an EIS. For example, ODOT’s Proposed Action for NEPA Analysis on the RMPP states, “The Regional Mobility Pricing Project is being studied as an independent project, following two other proposed projects that include tolls: the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program and the I-205 Toll Project.”
In contrast, ODOT and representatives for local governments view the I-205 Toll Project and the RMPP as two phases of a single project. For example, both the January 2023 and February 2023 meetings of the Regional Toll Advisory Committee had lengthy discussions about “reducing the implementation gap” between the I-205 Toll Project and the RMPP. One suggestion was to “[s]eek concurrent U.S. Department of Transportation approval of cooperative agreement with NEPA process.”
Indeed, the EA indicates the forthcoming EA for the RMPP will include the I-205 Toll Project in its cumulative impact analysis. As discussed below, NEPA analysis must assess the cumulative effects of “past, present, and reasonably foreseeable future actions.” If the I-205 Tolling Project will have a cumulative effect on the RMPP, then surely the RMPP will have a cumulative effect on the I-205 Tolling Project. ODOT’s exclusion of the RMPP from this EA’s cumulative effects is an attempt to avoid scrutiny until after the tolling “ship has sailed.”
32 CFR § 651.16 mandates:
NEPA analyses must assess cumulative effects, which are the impact on the environment resulting from the incremental impact of the action when added to other past, present, and reasonably foreseeable future actions. Actions by federal, non-federal agencies, and private parties must be considered (40 CFR 1508.7).
Appendix Q to the EA notes:
Cumulative impacts are defined as the effects on the environment that result from the incremental effects of the proposed action when added to the effects of other past, present, and reasonably foreseeable future actions regardless of what agency (federal or non-federal) or person undertakes such other actions (Council on Environmental Quality 2022).
Surprisingly, the EA for the Project asserts ODOT’s Regional Mobility Pricing Project does not meet the criteria to be considered a “reasonably foreseeable future action” because:
The planning process is under way, with the formal environmental review beginning in late 2022. Because key details about the RMPP are unknown (e.g., starting and ending points for tolling, potential toll rates), impacts cannot be reliably qualified or quantified at this time. The RMPP is also not currently included in Metro’s RTP.
Several of these statements are false. For example, regarding the starting and ending points for tolling, ODOT’s Proposed Action for NEPA Analysis of the RMPP clearly states:
- “ODOT is proposing to implement and operate congestion pricing on all lanes of approximately 55 miles of Interstate-5 (I-5) and Interstate 205 (I-205) in the Portland metropolitan area.”
- “Congestion pricing will be applied to all lanes of I-5 and I-205.”
- “The project concept includes congestion pricing all lanes of the existing interstate, rather than pricing a single lane or set of lanes, building a new tolled turnpike, or tolling a newly constructed lane.”
- “The evaluation area for the Proposed Action … includes I-5 from the Interstate Bridge to the Boone Bridge in Wilsonville, Oregon and I-205 from the Glenn Jackson Bridge to the point at which I-205 intersects with I-5 in Tualatin, Oregon.”
- “Drivers would not pay on additional toll for the Regional Mobility Pricing Project on the sections of I-5 and I-205 that are tolled by [the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program and the I-205 Toll Project].”
ORS 383.150 states:
(3) The [Oregon Transportation Commission] shall assess tolls in the following locations:
(a) On Interstate 205, beginning at the Washington state line and ending where it intersects with Interstate 5 in this state.
(b) On Interstate 5, beginning at the Washington state line and ending where it intersects with Interstate 205.
Thus, ODOT’s claim the starting and ending points for tolling are unknown is unambiguously false. Oregon law mandates where the tolling begins and ends and ODOT has publicly stated numerous times and in numerous forums precisely where tolling under the RMPP will begin and where it will end and what portions will be excluded from tolling.
Regarding potential toll rates, ODOT’s Proposed Action for NEPA Analysis identifies several projected benefits from the Regional Mobility Pricing including:
- Decreased duration of congestion on I-5 and I-205;
- Improved travel times and reliability of travel times; and
- Reduced vehicle miles traveled, vehicle hours traveled, and single occupancy vehicle trips.
ODOT indicates these projections come from “studies to define the project concept and determine how congestion pricing can be most effective.” There is no way these studies could have been conducted without evaluating a range of potential toll rates. Thus, ODOT’s claim that “potential toll rates” are unknown is completely disingenuous. While ODOT may not know what toll rates ultimately will be imposed, it is well aware of the range of “potential” toll rates that will be imposed.
In addition to the EA’s omission of the significant cumulative effects of the RMPP, the EA misrepresents the economic benefits of the I-205 Tolling Program. In particular, it does not indicate that once the tolls are in place, the region will be more than $27 million a year worse off.
The EA estimates the average household will pay $575 a year just for its first phase of tolls on I-205. That’s $575 a year that Oregonians won’t be able to spend on other things, with restaurants and retail establishments the hardest hit. Imagine putting years into building your restaurant or store, only to find that road tolls have driven away your customers and forced you out of business. But, we don’t have to imagine—because the EA estimates that the Project’s tolls will cause more than 750 people to lose their jobs and reduce wages by about $3 million a year.
As shown in the table below, the EA forecasts the Project will collect $132 million a year in tolls: $93 million a year from households and $39 million a year from freight carriers. At the same time, the EA estimates that reduced traffic on I-205 will produce only $105 million in economic benefits from reduced congestion, environmental improvements, and economic activity. That means Oregonians will be $27 million worse off every year these tolls are collected.
|Tolls collected: Households||$93.0|
|Tolls collected: Freight||39.0|
|Total tolls collected||$132.0|
|Monetized value of travel benefits||$104.9|
|Consumer spending: Labor income||0.1|
|Consumer spending: Econ. Output||0.3|
|Indirect: Labor income||(3.2)|
|Indirect: Econ. Output||2.4|
|Total economic impacts||$104.5|
This is not how congestion pricing is supposed to work. Done correctly, congestion pricing makes us better off because the value of the time we save is worth more than the tolls we pay. Somehow, ODOT got way off track and concocted a tolling scheme that charges outrageous tolls, doesn’t generate sufficient time savings, impoverishes families, and drives out employers. These are significant impacts that warrant the scrutiny of an Environmental Impact Statement
Respectfully submitted by:
Eric Fruits, Ph.D.
Vice President of Research
Cascade Policy Institute
 Oregon Department of Transportation, Regional Mobility Pricing Project: Proposed Action for NEPA Analysis (Nov. 2022), https://www.oregon.gov/odot/tolling/Documents/RMPP_NEPA_Proposed_Action_November_2022_508.pdf.
 Regional Toll Advisory Committee, Meeting #5 (Feb. 27, 2023), https://www.oregon.gov/odot/tolling/Documents/RTAC%20Meeting%205%20PPT_508.pdf.