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An Increase in Federal Highway Funding isn’t Enough to Cancel Oregon’s Plans for Tolls

The agency says it still needs the tolling dollars for big projects that don’t fit the restrictions attached to federal money.

President Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill increases spending on Oregon’s highways and special transportation projects 38% over the state’s baseline, according to the Oregon Department of Transportation.

But the extra $1 billion earmarked for Oregon over five years in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act won’t be enough to make ODOT drop its plans for tolling on Portland-area interstate highways.

In part, that’s because only $400 million of the increase is flexible to spend as ODOT wishes. (There’s an extra $200 million in the bill for public transit as well.) The agency says it still needs the tolling dollars for big projects that don’t fit the restrictions attached to federal money.

Asked about the tolling plans at a press briefing on Nov. 12, ODOT officials said they’re also counting on tolls for managing congestion.

“We’re starting to hear that from folks these days, ‘Now that you have this money, you won’t need to toll, right?’” said ODOT assistant director Travis Brouwer last Friday. “The reality is that if you do the math, that simply isn’t going to be the case. If we took every single dollar coming in additional money from this bill, it would not be enough to build the Interstate Bridge, or I-205 and the Rose Quarter.”