The long path to getting drivers on Interstates 5 and 205 in the metro area to pay for the use of highways and bridges has hit a roadblock: Legislative leaders say Gov. Tina Kotek has told the Oregon Department of Transportation to delay collecting tolls until January 2026 at the earliest.
In its description of current plans, ODOT says that “tolls could start as early as 2024 on the I-205 corridor, near the Abernethy and Tualatin River bridges in Clackamas County. A final decision is expected in spring 2023 after we finish the environmental review.”
In 2017, lawmakers ordered the agency to begin studying how to augment its finances, which are imperiled by a reliance on declining gas tax revenues, to begin moving toward tolling.
Since then, ODOT has developed two different plans, the Regional Mobility Pricing Project and the I-205 Toll Project.
The latter has generated strong bipartisan opposition in communities along I-205, as residents worry both about potential costs and the diversion of traffic from the highway to local streets.
Last week, 31 lawmakers introduced a bill seeking a two-year pause in tolling on I-205. Rather than see the energy behind that bill imperil other ODOT priorities, such as beginning to fund the Interstate Bridge Replacement Project between Portland and Vancouver (which is also likely to include tolling), legislative leaders and Kotek moved to placate critics.
For their part, the leaders have formed a special Subcommittee on Transportation Planning to oversee ODOT’s toll planning, while they say Kotek told ODOT, which reports to her, to pump the brakes.
“As the Oregon Department of Transportation takes on this important work, the public’s confidence in the state’s ability to provide clear, consistent and accurate information about the impacts this work will have on our communities is critical,” Senate President Rob Wagner (D-Lake Oswego) and House Speaker Dan Rayfield (D-Corvallis) wrote in a May 1 letter to Kotek. “As we’ve discussed on several occasions, we share your concern that the agency is not meeting the mark in this regard.”
State Rep. Courtney Neron (D-Wilsonville), one of the sponsors of the bill introduced last week, applauded the slowdown.
“Our communities should not disproportionately shoulder the cost of interstate infrastructure. A flawed tolling program would harm working families, individuals on fixed incomes, and businesses in my community.” Neron said. “We have an obligation to ensure community voices are heard, legislative sideboards are in place, and that ODOT cannot proceed without truly taking our needs into consideration.”