FHWA gives greenlight to Oregon DOT for I-5, I-205 toll plans

By Tyson Fisher, Land Line staff writer | 1/24/2019

Oregon may join the growing list of states to propose a new toll. The Federal Highway Administration recently sent a letter to the Oregon Department of Transportation regarding what the state needs to do to fulfill a request to toll portions of Interstate 5 and Interstate 205 in the Portland region.

In December, ODOT sent a letter to FHWA expressing interest in tolling I-5 and I-205 in Portland.

In the letter, FHWA requested more details on the projects for a final eligibility determination. The administration did state that the I-205 and I-5 projects are likely eligible for the Value Pricing Pilot Program (VPPP). According to the letter, Oregon can impose tolls on federal-aid highways if it involves:

  • Initial construction of a new highway, bridge or tunnel.
  • Initial construction of new lanes on highways, bridges and tunnels, as long as the number of toll-free lanes is not reduced.
  • Reconstruction or replacement of a bridge or tunnel.
  • Reconstruction of a highway.
  • Reconstruction, restoration or rehabilitation of an interstate highway, as long as the number of toll-free lanes is not reduced.

According to ODOT’s original letter to FHWA, the I-205 project includes reconstruction and widening between Oregon Highway 99E and Stafford Road, including the George Abernathy Bridge. The I-5 plan involves completion of the Rose Quarter project, which includes new freeway auxiliary lanes between Interstate 84 and Interstate 405.

Proposed tolling projects chart from Oregon DOTODOT will now move on to the next phase, which includes in-depth planning, traffic and revenue analysis, environmental review, and extensive public engagement. According to ODOT, this process is expected to take several years.

Keep Oregon Moving

The toll projects are part of a greater infrastructure package called Keep Oregon Moving, formally known as HB2017. Passed in July 2017, the bill authorizes more than $5 billion for congestion-reducing projects, highway/bridge improvements and transit/active transportation investments. According to ODOT, it is the largest transportation funding packing in Oregon history.

In addition to the proposed toll plans, other sources of revenue will help fund Keep Oregon Moving projects.

To start, truckers will pay more for the weight-mile tax in the state. Fuel taxes and registration/title fees will also increase. More than $1 million a year will come from a $15 fee on new adult bicycles that cost $200 or more. A 0.5 percent “dealer privilege tax” will be added to new light vehicles, with the proceeds dedicated to electric vehicle rebates and multimodal transportation projects.

Lastly, public transportation payroll tax will generate another $115 million a year.

HB2017 establishes a Congestion Relief Fund, which will receive any net proceeds from tolling. That money must be spent on roadway projects, including travel lanes, bicycle/pedestrian facilities or transit improvements. Revenue from tolling will be used for adding the new lanes on I-5 and I-205, in addition to other highway improvements.

What is the Value Pricing Pilot Program?

According to FHWA’s website, VPPP “is intended to demonstrate whether and to what extent roadway congestion may be reduced through application of congestion pricing strategies, and the magnitude of the impact of such strategies on driver behavior, traffic volumes, transit ridership, air quality and availability of funds for transportation programs.”

Under VPPP, tolls can be established on existing toll-free highways, bridges and tunnels. Legislation requires a state using VPPP to report on the outcomes, including impact on travel times, transit, air quality, low income populations and minorities. Up to 15 slots for VPPP are authorized by Congress.

Funding for VPPP dried up in 2012, and requirements for toll agreements in sections of the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) Act were eliminated. However, states can still seek authority to toll under the program, just without the funding.

 

 

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