December 1st, 2009 5:33 pm | by Ari Phillips News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, CLEAN UP

What One Expert Thinks About Congestion Pricing in Portland

USA091 - Seattle to Portland, Traffic Jam

Jeffrey N. Buxbaum, who leads the tolling and road pricing practice at Cambridge Systematics, was in town today to discuss the future of congestion pricing in Portland.

In town to make presentations to government officials about how Oregon can test a congestion pricing pilot program on Portland-area highways, Buxbaum was obviously dealing with a hot-button issue.

A quick refresher on the topic: the Oregon State Legislature has mandated that the Oregon Department of Transportation develop and implement a congestion pricing pilot in the Portland metro area by September 2012. Vehicles more than 10,000 pounds would be exempt, and revenue from the pilot program would be spent in the Portland area. Beyond those facts, very little is known.

When pressed for illuminating details such as where the tolling might take place (the I-5 corridor perhaps?), where the money will come from to implement the plan, or even what Portland hopes to achieve, specifically, with the bill, Buxbaum deferred to two local officials – Jason Tell, ODOT Region 1 Manager, and Jim Whitty, the Oregon Office of Innovative Partnerships and Alternative Funding Manager.

The common refrain from these two state officials? The process is still in the “learning mode” with the current goal being to provide clear background materials and nurture a lively discussion. They also emphasized that the Congestion Pricing Advisory Committee will hold its second organization meeting Wednesday afternoon.

The meat and potatoes of Buxbaum's presentation came in his summary of a recent case study that looked at congestion pricing in several European cities , the most notable of these probably being the London and Stockholm “toll rings” in which drivers pay to enter a city or region of a city. The case study covered an array of topics, with some of the key points being:

  • Most European cities have experienced 14-23 percent reductions in traffic after congestion pricing has been imposed with the purpose of reducing traffic, and have therefore generally been considered successes.

  • Initial public reaction to congestion pricing is typically negative. I mean you did used to drive on these roads for free!

  • Congestion pricing is an imperfect science, with each city requiring its own unique master plan and special considerations. Many cities consider congestion pricing and then don't go through with it because the economic impacts are too uncertain.

Portland has about three years to come up with some options, weigh them, and then test the most promising one – a “tight timescale” according to Buxbaum. Until then I suggest you drive as much as possible, because who knows, soon you might have to pay for your right to burn rubber.
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