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Initiative would require vote on tolls

An initiative proposed for the 2020 ballot could slow efforts to toll Interstate 5 and Interstate 205 in the Portland area.

PAMPLIN FILE PHOTO - Portland trafficOregonians could have a chance to vote on whether to approve a proposal to toll interstates through the Portland metro area, under an initiative petition filed this week.

Gladstone Planning Commissioner Les Poole and state Rep. Mike Nearman, R-Independence, have filed Initiative Petition 9, "Tolls Need Voter Approval," for the 2020 ballot. The initiative would amend the Oregon Constitution to require a vote of the people to implement tolls. Poole said he received notice from the secretary of state on Tuesday authorizing petitioners to begin gathering signatures for the initiative.

"Regardless of the validity of that concept, the (tolling) recommendations by ODOT (the Oregon Department of Transportation) are full of holes," Poole wrote in an email to the Pamplin/EO Capital Bureau.

Puting the plan to a vote would hold state transportation officials accountable for addressing issues such as how the revenue from tolling will be used and preventing diversion of traffic into neighborhoods, he said.

A policy advisory committee earlier this month recommended tolling all lanes of Interstate 5 between Northeast Going/Alberta Street and Southwest Multnomah Boulevard and on the Abernathy Bridge on Interstate 205. The bridge toll would go toward paying for building a third lane on I-205 between Highway 99 East and Stafford Road.

"I am not at all surprised that someone has filed an initiative to get this to go to voters," said state Transportation Commissioner Sean O'Hollaren, who co-chaired the policy advisory committee. "It would clearly slow the plan and in order to implement it, if it has to go to a vote, it will take a lot more effort and time to do it."

If the initiative qualifies for the ballot, it would have a good chance of receiving approval, O'Hollaren said.

"When it comes to imposing user fees, which is what tolling is, people want to have a voice in it."

If the plan ends up at the polls, "people will have a choice to vote to sit in traffic or vote to try to do something about it," he said.

Congestion-priced tolling — a system in which tolls vary according to the amount of congestion on the roads — helps reduce traffic bottlenecks in other places, including the Seattle area, O'Hollaren said. The plan also is a way for ODOT to pay for new infrastructure, which can't be funded solely with gas tax revenue.

"We don't have that many options and the rate of population growth continues to outpace our rate of capacity."

State lawmakers approved a $5.3 billion transportation-funding package in 2017. As part of the legislation, the Oregon Transportation Commission was charged with considering a tolling plan to help encourage more efficient use of Portland-area interstates and to raise revenue for projects to further reduce congestion or add capacity. The Oregon Department of Transportation convened a policy advisory committee to research and come up with a recommendation for tolls. The committee was led by O'Hollaren and Alando Simpson, who represent the Portland area.

The commission has a December deadline to submit a proposal to the Federal Highway Administration, which also must approve the plan.

It could take several years to begin the tolling, and having a plan in place before the November 2020 is highly unlikely, O'Hollaren said.


Paris Achen
Portland Tribune Capital Bureau
503-385-4899
email: pachen@portlandtribune.com
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