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Tell congresswoman no tolls, ‘congestion pricing’

Oregon to TOLL both I-5 & I-205 unless stopped

The Camas Post-Record published my letter to the editor.

Tell congresswoman no tolls, ‘congestion pricing’

By the time you read this, tolls on both I-5 and I-205 at the Oregon border could be law in Oregon. On Thursday afternoon, July 7, the Oregon Senate passed their $5.3 billion transportation package. It goes to Governor Kate Brown’s desk for her signature.

Southwest Washington has an estimated 70,000 citizens who work and pay taxes in Oregon. In the failed Columbia River Crossing, Clark County citizens would be paying over 60 percent of the tolls in that proposal.

Oregon’s plan is a new twist — called “congestion pricing” or variable tolls.

Congestion pricing, the disastrous Washington State Department of Transportation policy on Seattle’s I-405. Citizens pay up to $10 to drive the HOV lane, avoiding the congestion nightmare created for everyone else stranded in the “free” lanes. Yet Seattle has the 10th worst traffic congestion in the nation.

Oregon Public Broadcasting reported: “The measure orders the Oregon Transportation Commission to move forward with implementing variable tolling in conjunction with major freeway projects on Interstates 5 and 205. The idea is that higher prices to use roads can manage congestion.”

The first problem — this negatively impacts the low-wage worker much more than wealthy drivers. Our “progressive” friends are usually sensitive to “regressive” taxes. Next — those using the non-tolled lanes found driving times increased significantly.

Finally, ask a very simple question: Will Southwest Washington citizens “benefit” from any of the road improvements in the bill? With minor exceptions, the answer is “no.”

We all know the real bottleneck on I-5 in the region is the two-mile, two-lane section of I-5 at the Rose Quarter. It has the highest accident rate of any section of road in Oregon. Yet Oregon is unwilling to add new through lanes on I-5 at the Rose Quarter. They are only adding “auxiliary lanes” at the Rose Quarter for merging on/off I-5. The bulk of the Rose Quarter money will be spent to add two “lids” across the top of I-5, which does nothing to reduce traffic congestion.

But in the same transportation plan, Oregon is proposing to add new lanes to I-205 from Stafford Road to Oregon City — roughly six miles in each direction. Additionally, they will widen the Abernethy Bridge crossing the Willamette River and do a seismic upgrade. It’s presently three-lanes wide, and they want to make it wider! They’re spending $452 million adding vehicle capacity to I-205, and they want Southwest Washington citizens to help pay for it.

Southwest Washington citizens have repeatedly rejected tolls. It’s particularly outrageous when there is no benefit for Clark County drivers.

Citizens must now turn to Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler. The tolls must be approved by the Federal Highway Administration. We need our congresswoman to tell the FHA to reject Oregon’s request to toll both I-5 and I-205.

Southwest Washington citizens have spoken multiple times — “no tolls” and therefore no congestion pricing. Clark County citizens should not pay for Oregon’s transportation projects. Those working in Oregon are already paying significant income taxes in Oregon.

John Ley, Camas

Letter: No tolls or ‘congestion pricing’

Oregon wants to TOLL I-5 & I-205

By John Ley, CAMAS

Published: July 5, 2017, 6:00 AM

 

Oregon legislators thought Southwest Washington citizens should pay tolls on both I-5 and I-205 to fund their transportation package. But the word got out — citizens are outraged. The rumor is they’re backing away from this proposal.

What’s their new “revenue” scheme? Congestion pricing. You know, the disastrous policy the Washington State Department of Transportation enacted on Seattle’s I-405. Citizens pay up to $10 to drive in the HOV lane, avoiding the congestion nightmare WSDOT’s policy created for everyone else. Yet, Seattle has the 10th-worst congestion in the nation.

OPB reports: “The measure orders the Oregon Transportation Commission to move forward with implementing variable tolling in conjunction with major freeway projects on interstates 5 and 205. The idea is that higher prices to use roads can manage congestion.”

The first problem is that it negatively impacts the low-wage worker much more than it does wealthy drivers. Our “progressive” friends are usually sensitive to these alleged “regressive” taxes. Next is that those using the nontolled lanes found driving times significantly increased — a negative impact for the average citizen.

Southwest Washington citizens have repeatedly rejected tolls. But as The Columbian recently noted, it’s particularly outrageous especially when there is no benefit for Clark County drivers.

Just say “no” to tolls and to “congestion pricing” by Oregon!

Paying Oregon

Taxes and Tolls!

The recent “news” of the Oregon legislature passing HB 2017 for their $5.3 Billion Transportation plan has SW Washington citizens in an outrage. Oregon will be asking the Federal Highway Administration for permission to TOLL both I-5 and I-205, beginning at the Washington border. They want “congestion pricing” or variable tolls.

This could be similar to the WSDOT tolling scheme used on I-405 on the east side of Seattle and the Puget Sound. Their “congestion pricing” tops out at $10 per trip depending on the time of day.

No issue has divided local citizens more in the past decade, than the Columbia River Crossing with it’s TOLLS and light rail. Because Oregon Governor Kitzhaber and Washington Governor Inslee demanded: “No light rail, no bridge”, outraged citizens lobbied their elected representatives and killed the CRC.

The amazing research done by our local favorite forensic accountant on the CRC revealed that citizens would be paying  an  estimated $3.3 Billion in tolls over 30 years. Furthermore, it was revealed that SW Washington citizens would be paying almost two-thirds of those tolls, or over $2 Billion over the life of the bonds and estimated tolls. That was an outrageously unfair burden when the majority of the money spent was for improvements on the Oregon side of the river.

Some recent research led me to the Oregon Department of Revenue site.

Guess how much Clark County residents paid in 2016 to the State of Oregon, in Oregon income taxes?

$204 million!

“other Washington residents” paid an additional $88 million.

Think about that figure for a minute. What “could” we buy for the $204 million or the $292 million Oregon currently takes from Washington residents each year? Oregon provides very few “services” in return. Our citizens are paying for the “privilege” of working in Oregon.

In just four years, we could completely pay for an East County Bridge, as offered by Figg Engineering. It was an $860 million “fixed price” offer — no cost overruns borne by the taxpayer.

In a decade, that’s over $2 Billion. We could pay for TWO new bridges across the Columbia River, if built by Figg Engineering, rather than WSDOT or ODOT with their constant cost overruns.

TOLL REVENUE

It’s often discussed that about 70,000 SW Washington citizens cross the I-5 or I-205 bridge for work each day. Total bridge traffic is rapidly approaching 300,000 vehicles according to RTC figures.

If each car paid $2 each way, or $4 in tolls a day (one quarter the estimated CRC $8 rate), how much revenue will that generate?

70,000 vehicles x $4 = $280,000 per day.

$280,000/day x 5 days = $1.4 million per week.

$1.4 million/week x 50 weeks of work per year = $70 million.

And that is “if” the tolls under Oregon’s “congestion pricing” average only $2 each way. And it’s only those who MUST cross the bridge for work in Oregon each day that we’re counting. Total tolls and revenue are likely to be double or triple that amount.

A decade of “cheap” tolling revenue buys a new bridge. And if the tolls are double (more likely) then that is $140 million in toll revenue per year from Clark County residents.

The bottom line is that Oregon already collects $204 million a year in income taxes from Clark County residents. Add in another $140 million in “mid-range” tolls, and you have over $340 million a year we’re paying Oregon.

We could buy a brand new bridge every three years from Figg Engineering.

What will we get from Oregon if they TAKE that money instead?

If they follow Seattle’s example, MORE TRAFFIC CONGESTION.

 

Did the RTC hide Oregon TOLLS?

Nothing on their meeting agenda or in the Director’s report

 

In attending the June Board meeting of our Regional Transportation Council (RTC), I addressed the issue of Oregon wanting to TOLL both I-5 and I-205. There was nothing on the agenda about Oregon’s tolls, nor was anything mentioned by RTC Director Matt Ransom in his report to citizens and the Board of Directors.

I came away feeling like my comments were the first the board members had heard of the issue. I therefore attended the Clark County Council meeting and shared the following comments and observations.

http://www.cvtv.org/vid_link/19421?start=2640&stop=2838

What’s the purpose of the RTC?

Mission Statement

To encourage and promote the development of a balanced, safe, efficient and affordable regional transportation system to meet the mobility needs of people and goods, within and through this region, and minimize transportation-related air pollution.

Surely the addition of TOLLS would be a significant “negative” with regards to the “affordable” part of their mission. Surely, they would need to be informed and have a say regarding the impact of any TOLLS on our regional transportation system.

 

I did some additional research. The Oregonian had FOUR different stories on Oregon’s transportation package in the month of May that mentioned TOLLS.

Here are the Oregonian stories prior to the June RTC meeting. First, May 9th which said in part:

Tolling has also been considered to decrease traffic in the Portland area. Boquist said a Portland-area tolling plan would likely include tolls on both I-5 and I-205, though some stretches might be toll-free to decrease the burden on low-income Oregonians.”

and then

“Beyer said a recurring complaint from businesses throughout Oregon was that the Portland-area traffic was costing them money.

“We forget sometimes that we’re an exporting state, and all the freight – the economy of Oregon – has to go that way,” he said. “We’re hurting our job expansion, we’re hurting the economy. … It’s just a question of do we want to address it or not?”

Then there’s the May 11th report. It states in part:

“Half the funding would come from statewide tax increases, with the other half coming from gas tax revenue, registration fees and perhaps tolls from residents in Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties.”

Later in the story it reports:

“>> Local funds and a sales tax on new vehicles, and possibly tolls, will pay for congestion relief on I-5, I-205 and OR 217 in the form of wider roads and added lanes”

The story later elaborates:

Tolling

Lawmakers are interested in requiring tolls on some roads, both to raise revenue and to influence drivers’ behavior, such as discouraging people from driving during rush hour.

Travis Brouwer, assistant director of the Oregon Department of Transportation, said federal law generally precludes tolls except on new bridges and new roads or highway lanes. However, some federal pilot programs could offer options for expanded use of tolls in Oregon.

In the past, Oregon has mostly used tolls to pay for new bridge construction and could do so again, Brouwer said.

Lawmakers aren’t relying on any tolling revenue in their transportation funding plan, however.

Brouwer said it will take extensive computer modeling to figure out how much revenue tolls might raise, since some drivers would inevitably take alternate routes to avoid them.

Monroe said the improvements to I-205 and I-5 could open the door for tolling. The additional lane proposed on I-205 between the Abernethy Bridge and Stafford Road is one candidate, he said.

Another possibility that might work for parts of I-5 southbound, he said, is “congestion tolling,” or tolling during the busiest parts of the day.”

Tolling in Oregon is almost like the sales tax and self-service gasoline,” he said. “It’s something that we really resist.”

Then there’s a May 27th editorial from the Oregonian. They talk about “the mother of all transportation packages“. No kidding! Especially when they want to TOLL SW WA citizens while traveling on both I-5 and I-205.

“The mother-of-all transportation packages, which will be presented as a bill this week, was more than a year in the making and wisely braids several new sources of revenue to build over time while avoiding a raid on the state’s general fund.”

and

“Money would come from a higher fuel tax, starting modestly but increasing annually to reach 11 cents to 14 cents per gallon; boosted title and registration fees; modest taxes on the sale of new vehicles and bicycles; and a bump in the payroll tax, for mass transit modes of travel. Tolling along segments of high-volume highways must be considered, too, as a part of the new-revenue picture.”

Then there was this May 31st news report.

“The state would also be instructed to seek federal permission to install tolls on Interstate 205 and Interstate 5 at the Washington border.”

Given all this reporting, how is it possible that our RTC Director, who has THREE voting members on his Board of Directors from Oregon, knows nothing about Oregon’s proposed TOLLING?

He shouldn’t claim ignorance. The possibility of TOLLS started in this January 2017 news report.

“Lawmakers say every revenue option should be considered, including increases to the gas tax and license and registration fees, tolls on new highways, borrowing money, and new fees on bicycles and electric or high-mileage vehicles.”

Clearly, there is something wrong at our Regional Transportation Council. Is it incompetence in not knowing about this? Or is it intentionally hiding this from citizens and the Board of Directors? Either way, it is unacceptable for our RTC to not know and to not be involved in the discussions regarding tolling of BOTH of our connections to the Portland metro region. There are 300,000 average daily crossings of both I-5 and I-205 according to RTC data.

Why have an RTC if they are going to be EXCLUDED from such a significant discussion with an unbelievably HUGE financial impact on Southwest Washington citizens?

SW Washington residents will be paying an extremely heavy price over Oregon’s TOLLING of both I-5 and I-205.

Per the CRC final environmental impact statement, and first pointed out NOT by the RTC but by Acuity Forensics — they reported that there would be $3.3 Billion in TOLL revenues. Acuity Forensics estimated that SW Washington citizens could potentially be paying between 60% and 64% of the total TOLLS. That equated to at about $2 Billion over a 30 year period, taken from SW Washington citizens.

The amount borrowed under the CRC plan was $1.005 Billion. Under the current Oregon plan, just over $1 Billion is allocated to the three Portland area projects tied to the TOLLS. It is therefore reasonable to assume somewhat similar borrowing costs. The CRC TOLLS were estimated to be between $5 and $16 per round trip in the Acuity report.

In the end, July 6, 2017, the Oregon legislature passed their transportation bill which included “congestion pricing”, aka variable TOLLS on I-5 and I-205 starting “at the Washington border”. Southwest Washington citizens SHOULD have been given an opportunity to make input, but that didn’t happen.

Willamette Week got it right in reporting, (after the fact), the TOLLING on both I-5 and I-205. Sadly, this wasn’t contained in NEWS reports by Willamette Week or the Columbian BEFORE the Oregon legislature made it law. The Columbian did run one editorial June 25th and one citizen letter to the editor June 21st.

Congestion pricing, aka variable TOLLS for Oregon highways

Oregon wants TOLLS on I-5 & I-205

According to the Oregon Public Broadcasting news report, the Oregon legislature wants to charge citizens using their highways and freeways in the Portland area “congestion pricing”. “Yes”, this burden would fall particularly hard on the 70,000+ SW Washington citizens who drive into Oregon for work each day.

The news report references WSDOT’s “variable tolling” on I-405 in the Puget Sound area, where drivers pay any where from 50 cents to $10 to drive in the uncongested HOV lanes. This clearly benefits “the rich” who can easily afford the $10 tolls, and forces the poor and average wage citizen into the even more congested other “general purpose lanes” of I-405.

OPB reports:

“Now, the big transportation bill in the Oregon Legislature calls for another innovation beloved by traffic reformers: congestion pricing.

The measure orders the Oregon Transportation Commission to move forward with implementing variable tolling in conjunction with major freeway projects on Interstates 5 and 205.

Now, the big transportation bill in the Oregon Legislature calls for another innovation beloved by traffic reformers: congestion pricing.

The measure orders the Oregon Transportation Commission to move forward with implementing variable tolling in conjunction with major freeway projects on Interstates 5 and 205.”

Listen to this 4 minute report from OPB on June 26th.

Listen to “Congestion Pricing Appears In Oregon Transportation Bill” on Spreaker.