Southwest Washington officials were dismayed Wednesday to learn that the Portland City Council is pushing for immediate tolls on Interstate 5 and Interstate 205 in lieu of a proposal to phase in tolling on a few sections of the interstate.
The council’s position was outlined in a letter sent to the Oregon Transportation Commission in advance of a special public hearing Thursday as the commission considers a recommendation from the Portland Metro Area Value Pricing Policy Advisory Committee last month.
Clark County Councilor Eileen Quiring, who served on the 25-member advisory board, said she’s not surprised to learn about Portland’s renewed tolling platform, given Portland’s previously expressed views on tolling.
“I’m saddened to see this, but it’s just frustrating watching,” Quiring said, “because we just don’t have a very loud, effective voice.”
Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle, who also served on the board, said she’s surprised by Portland’s letter in light of the agreement made by the advisory committee to test tolling on a smaller scale before implementing it systemwide.
The Clark County Council completed its letter June 27 and asked Oregon to forego the proposed tolling concept altogether.
“The truth of the matter is ‘Concept B’ would have a negative impact on traffic on both sides of the river, and Clark County commuters would be disproportionately affected by this tolling concept,” the letter reads. “As local elected officials, we understand and appreciate the importance of keeping infrastructure safe and transportation moving. That said, we do not believe that alleviating the congestion that takes place in Portland should be disproportionately paid for by Clark County commuters.”
Straying from the herd is business leadership organization Identity Clark County. The group sent a letter of its own to the committee in April supporting tolls.
“We strongly favor approaches that generate funding for well-defined improvements within zones where there is nexus between users and improvements,” the letter reads.
Identity Clark County said it does not support tolling without specified improvements or solely to discourage peak-time driving. The group also identified the I-5 Bridge replacement as an opportunity to coordinate a regional transportation plan.
• What: Oregon Transportation Commission special public comment session.
• When: Sign-ups open between 3 and 7 p.m. Thursday; hearing begins at 4 p.m.
• Where: Columbia Falls Ballroom at University Place Hotel and Conference Center, 310 S.W. Lincoln St., Portland.
“Given the improbability of significant new federal funding, it is incumbent upon local leaders to find new ways to fund critically needed improvements that keep our people, freight, commerce and economy moving,” the letter concludes. “This is why we are supportive of your efforts.”
Now that the advisory committee has made its recommendation to the OTC and disbanded, the OTC is hosting its first public hearing on the matter Thursday. Among several hours of scheduled public comment, former advisory committee members will share their final input on the proposal.
McEnerny-Ogle said she’s arriving at the meeting early to sign up for a speaking slot, and she will likely be joined by a few RTC board members. Quiring said she’s unsure if she will make it, but hopes the commission takes each agency’s letter to heart.
“I really wish there would be more of a cooperative attitude,” Quiring said. “We’ll see what happens at the OTC meeting. Maybe they will take that more into account.”