ODOT Admits Its Tolls Will Make Oregonians Worse Off
By Eric Fruits, Ph.D.
In about 18 months, Portland-area drivers will be paying the first of many tolls if the Oregon Department of Transportation has its way. By the end of 2024, ODOT plans to toll both the Abernethy Bridge and the Tualatin River Bridges on I-205. Tolls could be as high as $2.20 each way on each bridge, or $8.80 round-trip across both bridges. That’s just the first phase.
By the end of 2025, ODOT expects to impose tolls along the entire lengths of both I-5 and I-205 from Wilsonville to the Washington state border. After that, the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program plans to charge tolls to cross the Columbia River on both I-5 and I-205.
If you’re catching a flight at PDX, shopping at Bridgeport Village, tailgating at a Ducks game, or just trying to get to work, ODOT’s tolls will drain your bank account. For months, ODOT has been dodging the question of how much of a toll its tolling scheme will take on the region’s economy. But, the days of dodging are over.
Under federal law, states must get permission from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to charge tolls on Interstate highways. One of the steps is publishing an Environmental Assessment that details the potential environmental and economic impacts of a federally funded project. Last month, ODOT published its Environment Assessment of the Abernethy and Tualatin River bridge tolls. It’s a real eye-opener.
ODOT estimates the average household will pay $575 a year just for its first phase of tolls. That’s $575 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. You don’t have to imagine—because ODOT estimates that its tolls will cause more than 750 people to lose their jobs and reduce wages by about $3 million a year.
The transportation department projects that it 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, ODOT 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.
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 toll 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.
There is hope, however. Legislators should support and pass Senate Bill 933, which prohibits the Oregon Transportation Commission from establishing tolls on I-205 or I-5. The bill has bipartisan sponsorship and is awaiting a hearing in the Joint Committee on Transportation.
If the legislature won’t act, then we the people can. IP-4 is an initiative petition that requires county voter approval before a toll is imposed anywhere within the county. If this measure makes it on the ballot and is passed by voters, then the I-205 and I-5 tolls would require voter approval in Multnomah, Washington, and Clackamas counties.
Lastly, federal law allows anyone to comment on an Environmental Assessment. If the FHWA receives sufficient comments that demonstrate the negative impacts of ODOT’s tolling plan, then the agency may not approve the tolling plan. Send your comments to [email protected].
If we do nothing, tolls soon will be coming to Oregon roads. We can do something, though, and we need to do it within the next few months.
Eric Fruits, Ph.D. is Vice President of Research at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. A version of this article was published by The Portland Tribune on March 15, 2023.
I haven’t seen the ODOT report, but I wonder if some managers at ODOT are secretly against the tolling by their detailing the terrible costs it imposes. Plus setting up the system of transponders, collection of data, billing, etc is a major project in itself.
From what I’ve read it seems odot has gone way out on the the limb for this project with no turning back.It seems that with all the road taxes,income taxes,gas taxes and all the other monies that we’ve paid for our roads over and over again ,they would have plenty of funds in their coffer to get the job done without quadruple taxes again.Also being trapped in the middle of the project where we are being hit twice in ether direction.
Larry A Sparks
These toll roads will be a complete disaster for Oregon, leadership of the DOT must be fired immediately. It these toll roads are implemented, business revenue will be
lost and people will move. Oregonians will no longer take this obvious stupidity.
This toll issue is the biggest scam ODOT has ever tried to pull on our citizens. What a con job.. They have hidden vital information and shown how they failed to be transparent. We are Oregon and you can’t pull this shit by us without a fight. Small communities will suffer because ODOT doesn’t care where the alternate routes will be for those that can’t pay for the tolls. Why don’t you just admit ODOT you failed our state with the worst infrastructure in the country.
How many signatures for ballet measure have been collected.
27 million worse off per year plus the costs of repairs created by the flood of traffic onto surface streets to avoid tolls. 205 and I-5 were built to ease the traffic flow through town and take the burden off the city streets. We all think the roads are bad now, just think about tens of thousands of cars through downtown Oregon city down 99 to Canby and though to Wilsonville.
we dont want toll roads. lest odot take care of the roads
Thank goodness there is a bill to stop the toll plan. Thank you for this informative article and the ‘what to do’s’ about it. Hopefully, SB 933 will be a resounding success.
Ronald A Tonkin
No Tolls on I-5 or 205
Oregons system of tax and spend continues to fleece all Oregonians. We already have one of the highest gas taxes in the country and property taxes are way out of line in the Portland area already. I live near Wilsonville and I5 is backed up everyday in one direction or another for hours. I think ODT and our legislature in general is just trying to depopulate Oregon and doing a great job. I have many friends and family that have already moved and many more considering moving to another state. Oregon is running retiree’s out of the state in droves as the #3 highest cost of living for retirees. I believe common sense has been voted out of the Oregon legislature.
ODOT has responsibility for roads. Ask any motorist and the most basic answer to the question, “How well is ODOT doing its job?’, and they will say, “Government, what do you expect?!” My answer is, “I expect them to take the $.38 cent per gallon I pay them every time I fill up, and pave the roads under their purview.
In Tigard, two state highways (99W and OR-141 aka Hall Blvd), haven’t been paved in years. Instead ODOT dumps an occasional shovel of asphalt on another pot-hole and call it good! Need more money ODOT? Why not start charging electric vehicle owners (per mile) the equivalent amount that gas/diesel drivers pay per gallon? Do your readers know that electric vehicle owners drive for free on Oregon roads. How’s that for fair and equitable taxation?!
Wake up Oregon leaders. We are watching and you aren’t leading!!
Richard W Maurer
Let the tolling take place on I-5 and I-205 so long as;
Any and all state or federal governmental entities such as agencies, committees, departments or elected bodies are held to the strictest levels of equity, inclusion and transparency. Any entity that receives any money from the tolls shall be financially audited not less than each 2 year State budget cycle for equity, inclusion and full transparency. Failure of any aspect of the audit by the end of any legislative session will result in the discontinuance of funding until the audit is accepted in its entirety.
Funds collected may only be used for the seismic retro fitting of either freeway’s bridges or overpasses, or the construction of the I-5 Interstate bridge or the construction of additional lanes along either freeway North of the Willamette River near Wilsonville. In short, tolling fees may only be spent on the roads and bridges for which the tolls were collected.
Dr. Ron Powell
The impact on not only working families but communities as a whole seems to be overlooked if not ignored. To think that traffic will not be diverted through already congested areas of West Linn ,Oregon City and Canby ,is at best naive and at wurst deliberate indifference. The backups from Willamette Falls drive at the old Oregon City Bridge and 99 through Canby ,where 99 is already in a state disrepair, and Aurora ,is dangerously increasing and will increase by an order of magnitude with these tolls. It will only get worse as drivers divert to get to I5 and Wilsonville and rapidly growing Woodburn. If we are going to spend this much money it should be spent on repairing the roads we have and find funding for the contractors and aspirations of the self serving DOT from other sources than another tax on Oregon families.
The tolling project has been the most under-handed and disingenuous process ever by a state agency. They were INSTALLING the tolling infrastructure, as they conducting the “public outreach” portion of the project to assess if the public was in favor of tolling.
Tolls would be unavoidable, are the most regressive form of taxation and will drive business out of the state.
Jeanette Lorraine Rowan
We need to stop this, toll roads are going to take money and cause many hardships.
Tolling is a regressive tax used to control the movement of the poor, working class population.
Tried to comment as suggested, but the email address [email protected] bounces.
No to tolls – they are a regressive tax on those who can least afford it.
This article was educational and instructional. Now I actually understand the plan for tolls and I can do something about it! Thank you. We need to get the word out and vote against this. I think there are plenty of voters who will too. I’ll share this and hopefully it will get circulated.
Yorgi and Dimitri’s Friend
Great. Now I have to go round up a few Russian hackers to help me program my transponder to send my bill to ODOT each time….
Constance (Connie) Barr
Thank you for this very informative article. I have heard speculations about the proposed toll roads but this is the first detailed and impactful article I have seen. I oppose toll roads totally.
Let us not forget that many gas taxes go to failed light rail, not to roadways.
jean carson bos
I come from a state that had tolls on the interstate, when they were first building them. Getting into Florida was a nightmare, with traffic jams for miles. But once the interstate was paid for, the tolls were removed. HAPPY DAY! As far as I know, there is no plan for Oregon to end the tolls. We won’t be able to call it a FREEway anymore.
Eric, I’d like to see Cascade dig a little deeper on this one. ODOT says the “average” household will pay an additional $575 a year. That figure doesn’t mean much. Starting with, what do they mean by average? The arithmetic mean? Median? Mode? Which average they choose makes a huge difference on this. Does the average include every Oregon family, even those living in Ontario? Likely most Oregonians won’t ever pay a toll (Eastern/Southern OR), or almost never, so including them in any average skews the real impact downward.
What will be the average financial hit to PDX-area residents? What will someone who (e.g.) lives in Gladstone and works south of Wilsonville pay a year? By ODOT’s numbers that could be something like $2200 a year pay cut just to get to work.
And they’re not even talking about what this will do to livability in Canby, OR City, Tigard, Sherwood etc. when 1000s of people try to avoid tolls by cutting down 99E or 99W.
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