Which Leading Candidates for Governor Can’t Abide Tolling

Questions for the candidates: Do you support highway tolls?

Say the word “toll” and Oregonians on both sides of the aisle clutch their wallets.

That’s not stopping the Oregon Department of Transportation, which plans to make substantial changes to Portland area roadways. As soon as 2024, drivers may have to pay to cross Interstate 205′s Abernethy Bridge and may in the years to come have to pay to cross the Columbia River, after ODOT expands the number of lanes.

Plans can change, however. Most of the leading candidates for governor rejected all or some part of these plans when asked by WW.

WW asked:

1. Do you support tolling on the Abernethy Bridge as part of funding that project?

2. Do you support tolling as part of the Interstate Bridge replacement?

3. Do you support tolling or congestion pricing on Interstates 5 and 205 from the Washington border to where they intersect?

YES TO ALL THREE, WITH CONDITIONS

Former House Speaker Tina Kotek (D)

Oregon’s infrastructure needs immediate attention. Our bridges were not constructed to withstand earthquakes, making this a serious public safety issue. The plain truth is that we have urgent needs and not enough money to pay for them, so the people who use the roads and bridges should be part of funding the solutions.

Any tolling proposal would need to meet strict requirements. For instance, the pricing proposals must be crafted through a strong public process, and the plans should be transparent—all funds must be used to improve our existing transportation infrastructure. And these proposals must be equitable, always taking into consideration how low-income drivers will be protected from excessive costs. These projects must also meet our climate goals and sustain our current infrastructure.

NO FOR ABERNETHY BRIDGE

YES TO INTERSTATE BRIDGE

YES TO CONGESTION PRICING

State Treasurer Tobias Read (D)

The interstate bridges previously had tolling, and it’s unfortunate that the tolls weren’t continued for maintenance. Tolls with programs to support low-income families so they aren’t unnecessarily burdened is a prudent financial mechanism for funding and upkeep. It will be important to make decisions on tolling that ensure that there is not a huge swing of traffic from one bridge to the other. Tolling for existing facilities like the Abernethy Bridge will take a different set of considerations.

NO TOLLING FOR ANY OF THEM

Conservative writer Bridget Barton (R)

Both I-5 and I-205 are the key and virtually only routes for moving truck and auto traffic through our region. Already seriously overcongested, they cannot be further slowed or impeded by tolling.

A 40-plus-year focus on light rail, bike lanes, and pedestrians has resulted in purposeful underfunding of necessary road projects…. The very suggestion of adding additional tolls in the face of historic inflation, supply chain issues, and businesses still reeling from COVID is nothing short of government malpractice. As governor, I will look for ways to reduce the tax burden on Oregon families.

Former state Rep. Christine Drazan (R)

Gridlock on our highways is a threat to public safety and our economy, and a huge frustration for Oregonians trying to get to work or school. We can’t tax our way out of traffic—we need more lanes. Tolling is not the answer, especially when tolling doesn’t add capacity but simply pushes drivers off our highways to side streets.

We must use existing revenues to strengthen our transportation system and reduce traffic, including those made available by the recent bipartisan infrastructure package approved by Congress, instead of placing a new tax on Oregonians in the form of a toll.

Former state Sen. Betsy Johnson, unaffiliated

Let me understand this: Charging me again for the roads we built with my tax money and then telling me when I can drive on them? How about hell no. I do not like tolling, I do not like it here or there, I do not find tolling fair, I won’t support it anywhere.

Dr. Bud Pierce (R)

I am opposed to tolls in a state awash in revenue and which has failed to economize in order to fund priorities such as the building of roads and bridges. I would seek, as possible, the transfer of funding for mass transit expansion to the building of new roads and bridges.

No tolls to pay for ongoing maintenance that is to be paid for by current revenue flows. I am absolutely against congestion tolling. We must create more roadways.

Sandy Mayor Stan Pulliam (R)

Taxpayers fund government infrastructure projects through gas and other taxes and fees that are already too high. I do NOT support government tolls on top of taxes to fund these projects.

Former state Rep. Bob Tiernan (R)

Taxes on fuel are supposed to pay for bridges, roads, maintenance, and improvements. Placing a toll on a bridge is just another way government tries to generate revenue without calling it a tax. With inflation running wild, a toll hits the low income the hardest. It hurts Oregon businesses; it discourages Washington shoppers from shopping in Oregon. Government needs to better manage the taxes it collects. People have a fundamental right to travel, a fundamental freedom, to go where they want, when they want without government “charging them” for such use. Congestion pricing is simply the government trying to tell you…when you can travel.

Note: This post has been updated to include a response from Rep. Tiernan.