While Oregonians are safe from paying tolls for the next two years because of a state executive order, one member of the state’s congressional delegation is pushing federal Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to block proposed tolls on two interstate highways in Oregon.
U.S. Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer, a Republican, sent Buttigieg a letter urging the U.S. Department of Transportation to block the Oregon Department of Transportation from proceeding with plans to toll Interstate 5 and Interstate 205 in the Portland area to pay for highway improvements, including a new bridge over the Columbia River connecting Oregon and Washington. Gov. Tina Kotek earlier this year ordered a moratorium on toll collections until 2026.
Tolls are particularly contentious in Clackamas County, and more than two-thirds of the county’s voters live in Chavez-DeRemer’s 5th Congressional District. The third-largest county in Oregon and the most rural of the three counties that make up the Portland area, Clackamas would be affected by proposed tolls on both interstates. County and city staff fear that tolls on the interstates would increase demand on local roads, causing increased congestion and more crashes on city streets.
Chavez-DeRemer’s letter to Buttigieg follows an exchange the two had when he testified before the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure in September. At the time, Buttigieg said the Federal Highway Administration could deny a tolling proposal if there wasn’t adequate public outreach.
“It is my position that tolling on I-205 and I-5 should be denied on policy and process grounds,” Chavez-DeRemer wrote. “To the extent granted under federal laws and regulations, please bring this avoidable disaster to a halt.”
She previously introduced two bills to block tolling: the No Tolls on Oregon Roads Act to prohibit the federal department of transportation from approving the I-5 and I-205 tolling projects and the Tolling Transparency Act, which would require the department to conduct an economic impact study of proposed tolls anywhere in the country. Neither measure has moved in the House, and no other members of Congress have signed on in support.
In the meantime, the Oregon Department of Transportation continues to work on its plans to implement tolls. By the end of the year, the department plans to send Kotek proposals for reduced toll prices for low-income individuals.
And a group of Clackamas County voters were cleared in August to begin collecting signatures to put a constitutional amendment on the November 2024 ballot requiring a regional vote to approve any tolls. They have until next July to collect nearly 157,000 signatures.
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