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.
“We approved their pilot project because we wanted to see how they defined success,” McEnerny-Ogle said. “Being this is their first opportunity to implement tolling in the state of Oregon … we wanted to be a part of that discussion to evaluate it before they did a full implementation because … this is a bistate regional transportation system.”
The advisory committee recommendation has suggested tolling all lanes between Southwest Multnomah Boulevard and Northeast Going Street on I-5 — known as Concept B — as well as tolling near the Abernathy Bridge and Stafford Road on I-205. The recommendation was to then toll the bulk of I-5 and I-205, if the first phase goes smoothly.
If Portland is successful advocating outright tolling, McEnerny-Ogle added, the move eliminates Southwest Washington from the conversation.
“I felt we were part of the implementation but also part of the decision-making process,” she said. “If this is going to go forward like that, this removes us completely.”
Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, has been outspoken against Oregon’s plans to toll since the guiding legislation was passed in 2017.
“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.”
• 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.