The toll on I-66 inside the Beltway hit $46.50 on Tuesday
That’s the headline in the Washington Post, regarding a relatively new “congestion pricing” program in northern Virginia. “The toll on Interstate 66 inside the Capital Beltway reached $46.50 for a solo driver during the Tuesday morning rush, just below a record of $47.25 set last month.”
This is how government explains the tolls.
“Tolls are based on congestion,” she said. “The more congested it is, the higher the toll, and that’s how we manage demand for the lanes so people who are on the lanes have free-flowing traffic.”
Clearly, only the wealthy or those on expense accounts, can afford to have “free-flowing traffic” under this program.
But IF the TOLLS were truly about reducing congestion, then they would charge ZERO when there was no congestion. That’s not the case. At 5:30 a.m., the same government agency was charging $8.50 to drive on an uncongested road.
No traffic on the road at 5:31 a.m. and yet Virginia is charging people $8.50. Do you see how this game works?
It sure looks like a money grab to me.
As if to prove my point, a member of the Virginia legislature introduced a bill to toll opposite direction traffic. They paint it as an issue of “fairness”; but it’s truly a money grab. It’s not about congestion relief.
“The cost for single drivers averages $10.70 a day, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation. But to keep traffic flowing, those tolls spike to deter more people from getting on the road.
One of the many so-called toll relief bills going through the Virginia legislature would activate reverse tolls. That means people who live in D.C. and work out in Virginia would be charged also.”
Then there’s the “benefit” for those paying. From a news report:
“The average speed on Interstate 66 over the entire four-hour period each way now covered by HOV or toll rules is now about 10 miles an hour faster than it was in January of last year.”
Just 10 mph faster? Not much of a “benefit” for $40, is it?
Here’s a Washington Post video explaining it, but not covering the negative impacts on those unable to afford the tolls.
A different news report shows how hard it is to stop or change the TOLLING program, once it’s put in place.
“The Northam administration warns that any changes to the tolling rules inside the Beltway now could require Virginia to pay a penalty to the private companies building the separate toll lanes outside the Beltway, since the contract for those lanes was based on Virginia’s existing plans.”
Citizens voted to increase taxes for a new “general purpose lane” on I-405 in Seattle. But shortly before it opened, they were informed by WSDOT that the new lane would become a 2nd HOV lane. However single occupancy vehicles could drive in the HOV lane if they PAID AGAIN, via TOLLS.
Now that the program has been in effect for a few months, government is pushing for even higher tolls!
The study found that I-405 FAILS federal standards.
“The study found that the express toll lanes do not maintain speeds of 45 miles per hour at least 90 percent of the time during peak periods, as mandated by state legislation.”
But government officials say they need to RAISE the price of the TOLLS in order to force more cars off the road, or into the over-congested “free” lanes.
“Right now we’re not in compliance with state law, and DOT is clearly flaunting what the intent of the legislation was,” Rep. Harmsworth said.
Harmsworth added that drivers are being priced off of the interstate and he wants I-405 to return to four general lanes and two HOV lanes.”
(The Reflector (here) and the Camas Post Record (here) published slightly different versions.
Last fall the Vancouver City Council was briefed on Oregon’s “value pricing” and the Policy Advisory Committee. The stated purpose of “value pricing” (tolls to us), was to reduce congestion. (Report here.)
They were told that 72 percent of Oregon citizens say congestion is a very serious problem. Southwest Washington citizens agree. The Interstate 5 corridor is now congested over 12 hours a day. There are 35 bottlenecks in the region.
Here are two different responses to traffic congestion in the region.
Comparing the Rose Quarter and the SR-14 “congestion relief” projects. A tale of two transportation projects.
The states of Oregon and Washington each have a transportation project in the Portland Metro area to relieve congestion. Both are 2-lane highways. Both are two miles long. That’s where the similarity ends.
WSDOT’s plan for SR-14
SR-14 gets congested every morning as traffic pours onto the highway at the 164th Ave. onramp. Traffic moves a bit faster for a brief time, until just before the I-205 exit. In the evening, it’s just the opposite as traffic exiting I-205 heading east begins merging with SR-14.
The legislature and WSDOT have approved the addition of two lanes, one in each direction, on SR-14 between 164th and I-205.
The State of Washington will spend $25 million to add one new lane in each direction. That’s four miles of highway lanes being added. It’s new vehicle capacity to help reduce congestion.
In response to increasing congestion on State Route 14 during peak commute hours in east Vancouver, this project works to improve travel times on a consistent basis from the SR 14/I-205 Interchange to Southeast 164th Avenue.
This stretch of SR 14 is often a bottleneck during peak commute times, with substantial traffic merging at the SR 14/I-205 Interchange and at SE 164th Avenue. This project will address safety, congestion and inconsistent travel times along the corridor.
The project will also likely add sound reduction walls in some locations to mitigate added traffic noise.
The total project will build 4 miles of NEW highway lanes for $25 million.
The Rose Quarter
Oregon’s Rose Quarter interchange on I-5 is a 2-mile, 2-lane section of the Interstate freeway that has the HIGHEST accident rate of any section of road in Oregon — three times the accident rate of the Terwilliger Curves. It’s a SAFETY issue, first and foremost, besides being the primary bottleneck on I-5 in the region.
Portland also has the 12th worst traffic congestion in the nation, with an annual cost of $3.9 Billion, and the average driver spent 50 hours in congestion in 2017. That’s up from 47 hours in 2016. Here’s a KATU news report. It was triggered by a 2017 INRIX study on traffic congestion.
What’s being proposed for the Rose Quarter?
Oregon’s HB2017 laid out a transportation plan for the greater Portland Metro area. It would spend just over $1 Billion on three projects, including $450 million at the Rose Quarter.
An Oregonian news report in Sept. 2017 indicated the following.
“We see the Rose Quarter project as really reconnecting the central city,” said Art Pearce, the Transportation Bureau’s manager for projects and planning. “It has the potential to reconnect the area, make it more of a destination … and having more of the bike and pedestrian streets people have come to expect in other parts of Portland.”
The state, Pearce said, originally proposed a much larger expansion of the freeway. What’s proposed today represents years of negotiations that curtailed those earlier plans.
“It will indeed help the operations of the system, but it’s not designed to be a substantial expansion of the capacity,” Pearce said. “That’s what makes it a compromise.”
The project website states: “The section of I-5 between I-84 and I-405 is a heavily traveled corridor and experiences the highest crash rate in the state of Oregon. Located between multiple closely spaced interchanges, this segment of I-5 also experiences some of the highest traffic volumes in the state, resulting in up to 12 hours of congestion each day.”
The core of the proposal:
As you look at the ODOT graphic above, the two major YELLOW areas are concrete “lids” to be built over the top of I-5. They will do NOTHING to relieve traffic congestion on I-5 at the Rose Quarter. At the lower end, you’ll notice the thin yellow line — a “Clackamas Bicycle & Pedestrian Overcrossing.” This too will do NOTHING to relieve traffic congestion on I-5.
During a Fall 2017 walking tour of the project area, an ODOT spokesman answered a question about the cost of the bike/pedestrian bridge, saying “$30 million to $50 million,” as it hadn’t been designed yet.
What are they proposing on I-5 to reduce traffic congestion? They are closing one on-ramp and relocating another on-ramp. They will build TWO “auxiliary lanes,” one in each direction. This is where vehicles merge on and off the interstate. These auxiliary lanes should reduce some of the rear end accidents that happen as a result of vehicles not having enough distance to merge on to, or off of, the highway. The experts indicate these additions “may” reduce accidents by 30% to 50%.
Some simple math shows the “fix” won’t solve the SAFETY issue at the Rose Quarter. If the Rose Quarter accidents are 300%, and the Terwilliger Curves are 100%, then a 30% reduction means the Rose Quarter will be 200% the accidents of the Terwilliger Curves. If the “experts” are lucky and there’s a 50% reduction, then the Rose Quarter will be 150% of the Terwilliger Curves. It will still be the site of the HIGHEST accident rate of any road in Oregon.
One would think SAFETY would be the number one priority of both ODOT and the state legislature.
For $450 million (an exceedingly early estimate that many suspect will rise), ODOT wants to create an additional “auxiliary lane” in each direction through Rose Quarter.
That means that the on-ramps onto I-5 that currently force abrupt weaving will continue as lanes, offering drivers more time to merge with I-5’s traffic. ODOT believes the new lanes will cut crashes by 30 to 50 percent—and when there are crashes, new shoulders will get disabled vehicles away from the flow of traffic.
Taken together, ODOT says the improvements will shave 6.5 minutes off travel time during the peak morning commute, and eight minutes during evening rush hour, “with more reliability mid-day.”
But you’ll note they are NOT adding any new THROUGH LANES to I-5 at the Rose Quarter.
From the same Mercury news report, the Oregon Truckers Association weighs in:
“You need to recognize that that I-5 Rose Quarter section is the only two-lane section of the freeway between Canada and Mexico that’s through an urban center,” says OTA President Jana Jarvis. “We see a great need for added capacity.” (ODOT insists that auxiliary lanes don’t actually create “added capacity,” instead smoothing out the capacity that’s already in place.)
An OPB reporter at one of the ODOT “Value Pricing” Policy Advisory Committee Board meetings told me that HALF of the money proposed for the Rose Quarter will be spent on “Community Redevelopment“. Those are the two concrete “lids” over the top of I-5, the bike/pedestrian bridge, and perhaps a little more.
Portland City Commissioner Dan Saltzman said: “. . . the project is far more than simply a freeway expansion, as the critics claim. As refined and approved by the council in the N/NE Quadrant Plan, Saltzman argues it is a safety improvement and redevelopment project that will help unite the area by adding pedestrian and bike connections, too.”
Those “transportation dollars” are being spent on “community redevelopment”. This is how politicians bend the rules by taking money meant for roads and bridges and spending it elsewhere.
So in this tale of two transportation projects, which is the better “value”?
Which transportation project actually reduces traffic congestion?
WSDOT and the legislature deserve credit for using transportation dollars in an efficient manner that actually REDUCES CONGESTION!
Washington will build two miles of NEW highway lanes for $25 million on SR-14, increasing its vehicle capacity giving commuters significant relief.
Oregon will add ZERO new through lanes on I-5 at the Rose Quarter. They will build two new lids across I-5, and build a bike/pedestrian crossing over I-5 as part of their “community redevelopment”. Commuters will experience minor relief at the end of this massive expenditure. This community redevelopment project will consume HALF of the $450 million Oregon will spend.
If you think WSDOT’s SR-14 project is an anomaly, check out the 18th Street exit off I-205. That’s another almost 2 mile section of a highway where WSDOT spent $40.6 million to add new lanes and on and off ramps to I-205. Here’s the web page for the project.
Clearly if one is interested in reducing traffic congestion, adding new vehicle capacity is a must. Getting a new through lane in each direction for $25 million is a great value, compared to zero new through lanes at the Rose Quarter for $450 million.
Then there’s the issue of Oregon’s plans to charge TOLLS on both I-5 and I-205 to help pay for part of their transportation (and community redevelopment) funding. But that’s another story.
Here are my comments at the ODOT “Value Pricing” Open House in Vancouver in late January.
Citizens need to understand what Oregon is proposing in their “Value Pricing” TOLLING plans.
Sadly, there is no “value” for the over 70,000 SW Washington citizens who commute to Oregon for work on a regular basis.
Here are my comments at the January 30th ODOT Open House for Clark County citizens, held at the downtown Vancouver library.
Clark County Today did a great write up on the ODOT Open House.
Camas resident John Ley said that there are many reasons why a majority of Clark County citizens are against value pricing. The approximately 70,000 Clark County residents that commute to Portland each day would “be paying more than their fair share of those tolls,” Ley said.
“Their whole goal is to inflict some financial pain and to find a point where if there’s enough pain people will get off I-5 and I-205,” Ley said. “Well where are those people going to go?” he asked, noting that forcing commuters off of the interstates will move them onto side streets that are already congested, thus making the problem worse.
Ley also expressed concerns about the collection of tolls. “Once they get the tolls started, they never stop,” he said. Ley asked whether the roads will be tolled at times of the day when there is no congestion, and cited a value pricing program in Virginia last fall that still had drivers paying $5.50 at 5:30 in the morning.
“We want something that improves congestion,” Ley said. “They’ve got to fix the real bottleneck on I-5 and that’s the Rose Quarter.”
According to Ley, the state of Oregon wants to spend approximately $450 million to address the highways in the Rose Quarter, but not add any new thru-lanes to the interstates. “That’s a sad waste of money,” he said, and noted that approximately half of the money would go to “community redevelopment,” such as services for bikes, pedestrians and transit.
The complete Clark County Today news report can be read here.
I then called the Lars Larson show from Tokyo three days later. I listen via the internet when flying trips for Delta. Here’s a recording of our conversation.
The problem with Oregon’s tolling plan is there’s no “value” in Oregon’s proposal for Southwest Washington residents. They are adding zero new through lanes on Interstate 5. They are adding zero new through lanes on Interstate 205 until you get to the Oregon City area.
There is no alternative route for Southwest Washington residents to drive if tolls begin “at the border.” Furthermore, the side roads are already congested because Oregon has refused to add new lanes and new capacity for roughly three decades.
Finally, Oregon is going to spend $450 million at the Rose Quarter, but will add zero new through lanes. Half of that $450 million will be spent on “community redevelopment,” as they build two new “lids” over the top of I-5 at the Rose Quarter.
Sadly, this is just a money grab that will only harm the working poor. They’ll be forced to pay expensive tolls and/or drive the congested side streets, wasting even more hours in one of the nation’s most congested cities.
Oregon wants the 70,000 Southwest Washington drivers who daily cross the Columbia River to pay for Oregon’s infrastructure improvements. But these hardworking Washingtonians are already paying more than their fair share, paying millions annually in Oregon income taxes.
Our RTC Board refused to stand AGAINST the Oregon “Value Pricing” TOLLING plan
At the Dec. 7th, 2017 Regional Transportation Council (RTC) Board meeting, one Board member offered a letter for the RTC Board to send to Oregon officials. It stated our RTC was against the unfair Oregon plan to TOLL both I-5 and I-205 at the border.
Sadly, they refused to add the letter to their agenda.
Here are my comments to the Board about what happened and my disappointment on behalf of the citizens of SW Washington.