Monday, October 18, 2021
Oct. 18, 2021

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Federal Highway Administration says Oregon’s tolling plans ‘likely’ eligible for approval

Agency outlines requirements to move forward on tolling I-5, I-205

By , Columbian politics reporter

The Federal Highway Administration has given Oregon what it needs to move forward into the next phase of implementing tolling on Interstates 5 and 205. The highway agency sent the Oregon Department of Transportation a letter Tuesday that outlined the federal requirements to implement tolls on interstate highways.

“This is a major step that will help us keep moving forward in what will be a long process,” Tammy Baney, chair of the Oregon Transportation Commission, said in a press release. “In this letter, the (Federal Highway Administration) acknowledges the work completed in our feasibility analysis and points us toward the next steps we need to take to use tolling in Oregon to help us maintain a transportation system that will meet our growing needs.”

The letter responds to three issues Oregon needs to address to move forward: first, eligibility under federal tolling programs; second, required analysis to receive needed classification under the National Environmental Policy Act; and third, an anticipated timeline and any opportunities to streamline project review.

The Federal Highway Administration said Oregon’s proposals need additional detail before they can determine eligibility. However, tolling on I-5 between Southwest Multnomah Boulevard and North Going Street, and on I-205 near the Abernethy Bridge and Stafford Road, are likely eligible under the Value Pricing Pilot Program. The program allows local governments to establish tolling aimed at reducing congestion.

The highway administration also said before Oregon proceeds with its analysis, it needs to better define its proposed project and potential impact. Oregon will need to define tolling alternatives, as well as how it would establish tolling, given a fiscally constrained transportation plan. It will also need to evaluate tolling methods and rates while considering environmental justice impacts and the impacts of traffic diversion.

As to a potential timeline, the Federal Highway Administration said its approval of projects under the Value Pricing Pilot Program are typically straightforward and usually take just a few months to complete.

But the highway administration also encouraged Oregon to ensure a transparent process with public involvement and outreach.

“An aggressive public involvement, outreach, and marketing effort serves to streamline the overall project delivery,” the letter reads.

Angeline Riesterer, communications director for Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, characterized the highway agency’s initial approval as a “rubber stamp.”

Herrera Beutler has opposed tolling, introducing a bill requiring governors of both states to approve tolling on the border, Riesterer said, and inserted language into a House appropriations bill to stop the permitting process.

Her bill didn’t progress past subcommittee meetings, however, and the appropriations language was stripped in the Senate’s version of the bill.

“We are evaluating our options for further action,” Riesterer said.

ODOT said it expects to begin the next round of analysis and public engagement in the late spring.

“The next phase of work will include in-depth planning, traffic and revenue analysis, technical studies, environmental review and extensive public engagement. This work will focus on concerns raised frequently during the feasibility analysis phase of the project,” according to a press release.

Although the federal agency said approval can take just a few months, ODOT said the next phase required before submitting its application is expected to take several years.

A cost for the toll to drivers, and the precise placement or design of any tolling infrastructure, has yet to be determined.

Reporter Andy Matarrese contributed to this report.

Columbian politics reporter