Category Archives: Media

Tolling to Pay for Oregon’s “Band Aid”

Tolls to Pay for Oregon’s Band-Aid

What ODOT isn’t telling you

(Clark County Today published my piece, here.)

In Oregon’s outrageous TOLLING scheme, ODOT shares examples from around the country (and the world) of tolling and “congestion pricing”. Sadly, they’re only telling part of the story. Here’s more of what you should know.

A five-member unelected board will make the final decision on which plan is submitted to the federal government for approval. The Oregon Transportation Commission (OTC) will also decide the amounts of the tolls. They’ll also decide where in Oregon, the money will be spent. It doesn’t have to be spent on either I-5 or I-205.

Two OTC members chair the tolling Policy Advisory Committee (PAC). OTC member Alando Simpson stated at the end of the February PAC meeting: “tolling and congestion pricing is just a band aid to the wound. It really doesn’t solve the bigger issue.”

How much should SW Washington citizens be paying for Oregon’s “band aid”?


The Portland Mercury reports: “In fact, according to a firm hired by the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), none of the dozen highway-widening projects that are currently being planned in and around Portland by state officials would be enough in coming years to stem the increasing congestion choking Portland highways.” (here).

Citizens understand that to be true because it’s been over 35 years since new freeway capacity was added to the region. I-205 opened in December 1982. Regional population has since doubled. The Portland metro region now has the 12th worst traffic congestion in the nation, with 35 bottlenecks.

One source reported that Portland would be the ONLY city in the U.S. to toll ALL LANES of their interstate freeways, if they adopt one option. Option C: “Toll all I-5 and I-205 lanes. All lanes in both directions of I-5 and I-205 would be tolled from the Oregon side of the Columbia River to the junction of the two highways north of Wilsonville.”

In Seattle, WSDOT tolls both I-405 and state highway 520. What doesn’t ODOT tell you about these two tolling projects?

On I-405, they built new lanes in each direction, adding much needed capacity! (The ODOT proposals won’t add new through lanes to either I-5 or I-205). Citizens were originally promised a new “general purpose lane”. Later the new lane switched to a second HOV lane with TOLLS on both HOV lanes.

Camas resident Margaret Tweedt at the March 27 County Council presentation shared that on Seattle’s 520 bridge, the toll is $4.30 for citizens who buy a transponder for payment. But for those who pay cash, there is a 46 percent premium – $6.30 for “pay by mail”. Presumably those without transponders are non-local residents, tourists, and most likely, the poor. Charging the poor 46 percent more is one more very negative “equity” issue, demonstrating what another Clark County citizen, Steven Wallace called, “a war on the poor”.

Tweedt also asked: “what percentage of tolling revenues will be paid to the tolling companies?” The Washington Policy Center estimated that collection consumed 40% of the I-405 revenue. That’s what I told the audience. That’s outrageously expensive in my mind.

Washington State Transportation Commissioner Roy Jennings confronted me after the March County Council presentation. He alleged that my “40 percent” response was cherry picking; using the minimum “fee” paid for collection versus the minimum75 cent toll. His own agency, the WSTC confirmed the overall “cost of collection” on I-405 was 35 percent. Apparently the WSTC Vice Chairman isn’t up to speed on the details of his own business.

This level of the “cost of collection” was indirectly confirmed by ODOT’s Mandy Putney in an April presentation to our Regional Transportation Council. “Some of these scenarios might not raise much more than the cost to cover the operations of the tolling system.”

Both federal and state law requires cars in the toll lanes maintain an average speed of 45 mph or faster, 90 percent of the time during peak periods. I-405 fails this requirement. (here). Furthermore, WSDOT apparently expanded the times labeled “peak periods” so that overall, the freeway met, or came closer to meeting federal standards. (here).

ODOT and WSDOT fail to provide any information about “traffic diversion” due to the Seattle I-405 or 520 tolls. But we know it is real. At the Feb. 28 ODOT tolling meeting, Clackamas County Commissioner Paul Savas reported that 50,000 vehicles are presently diverting due to traffic congestion in the Portland metro region.

On 520, the Seattle Times reports:

“found examples of how enormous 520 bridge toll bills, some topping $10,000 with all the fines, had, no joke, caused some low-income drivers to file for personal bankruptcy or even flee the state.”

“At one point three years ago, before the state finally agreed to ease up on its rigid fine collection, an astonishing 90,000 local drivers owed $53 million in back tolls and fines. Unable to pay, some of them simply abandoned their cars when the state placed holds on their license tabs.


In London, cited by ODOT as an international example of pricing all roads in a congested city, there’s more you need to know. They charge $16 to drive anywhere in an 8 square mile area of London. According to the Seattle Times, London’s tolls only reduced traffic by 15%. Furthermore, “it took 1,360 cameras to set up London’s cordon, and last year just the cost of running the system was an insane $120 million. That’s all dollars hoovered out of the public to benefit some private photo-tolling corporation.”


ODOT cites a congestion pricing program in Virginia. On I-66, the tolls began late last year. What ODOT isn’t telling people is that “so far”, the maximum one-way toll hit $47. (here). Furthermore, at 5:30 in the morning, when there was no congestion, drivers have been charged up to $8.50 to drive on a nearly empty road. (2 side-by-side graphics – one showing $47 toll; the other showing $8.50 at 5:30 a.m.)

The Oregon transportation plan and tolling were created by HB 2017. You’ll see references to Oregon spending $450 million on the Rose Quarter. We know this is the real bottleneck on I-5. What ODOT and the press aren’t telling you is that HALF of the $450 million will be spent on “community redevelopment”, not adding lanes or fixing traffic safety issues.

Why is Oregon spending transportation dollars for “community redevelopment”? It’s pork barrel spending, for sure. Two concrete “lids” approximately two blocks wide, will be built over the top on I-5 at the Rose Quarter. Additionally, a bicycle & pedestrian bridge will cross over I-5. It could cost “$30 – $50 million” according to an ODOT staffer. (graphic)

According to ODOT, this stretch of I-5 at the Rose Quarter boasts the highest crash rate of any highway in the state. It has three times the accident rate of the Terwiliger Curves. Part of the $450 million plan will add “auxiliary lanes” and shoulders to I-5. They will also move an on-ramp. While all this will hopefully reduce accidents by 30-50 percent according to ODOT, it will continue to have the “highest accident rate” in Oregon. This confirms the current proposal is “a band aid” and not truly solving either the safety or the congestion problems.


But the greatest outrage of all, is how this “Value Pricing” Policy Advisory Committee (PAC) is or more appropriately isn’t working. The staff originally proposed eight options for consideration and discussion. It was a reasonable start. (graphic).

At the Feb 28th PAC meeting, the ODOT staff and hired outside consultants, recommended narrowing the options down to four major choices, and one minor (unlikely) choice.

NONE of the 25 PAC members got to vote or rank their preferences for the original eight options before they were reduced.

One of the original options immediately jumped out as having the “best” impact on congestion, and likely reduced traffic diversion. Option 4 proposed adding a new lane in each direction on both I-5 and I-205. (graphic)

The staff eliminated this from consideration due to the alleged “astronomical” cost. When asked by PAC members what the cost was, the staff didn’t have an answer. No costing models were done on any of the options.

PAC members asked for numbers on traffic diversion for each option. No numbers were provided, as they didn’t exist. As mentioned above, 50,000 vehicles current divert in the Portland metro area to side streets. It clearly becomes a safety issue for neighborhoods with that many vehicles using side roads and our cell phone GPS technology recommending alternate routes. Yet ODOT didn’t provide any data before eliminating several options.

Besides not allowing the PAC members to rank order their preferences on the original eight options, the staff failed to have the PAC vote whether or not to accept or reject the five recommended options they proposed move forward for further study.

At the very end of the Feb. 28th meeting, PAC members are getting up from the table and leaving the room. The staffer running the meeting says: “we didn’t reach a consensus”. She then asks another staffer: “did we get enough input to move forward?” You don’t see or hear the answer, but the person asking says “okay”. The meeting ends. (video).


(possible Ley 90-second comment video at April PAC meeting). (Is it possible to merge the Ley “citizen” comments, and then either one or both Paul Savas comments into one video?)


This is an incredible study in government bureaucracy, where elected leaders have little to no say in final outcomes. This is how Oregon will impose tolls.

Their stated goal is to get people to change their driving or transportation habits. Why doesn’t government change their office hours and transportation habits? Instead, they seek to impose financial hardship on citizens, forcing us to change ours. As Ann Donnelly said in a recent column: Laboratory rats in a behavior-modification experiment.”

Citizens should use this knowledge to make input to the next ODOT “Town Hall” here in Clark County. It will be Monday, April 30, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., Marshall Community Center / Leupke Center, 1009 E McLoughlin Blvd Vancouver. They should also communicate to PAC members Vancouver Mayor Ann Ogle, County Council member Eileen Quiring, and Chris Strickler of WSDOT.



Staff controls TOLLING process rather than 25 PAC committee members

Why isn’t the 25 member Policy Advisory Committee being listened to on ODOT’s TOLLING policy committee?


The 4th of six ODOT “Value Pricing” Policy Advisory Committee meetings occurred April 11th. I had prepared 3 minutes of “citizen comments”. Speakers were restricted to 90 seconds. Below is the video of my comments. Below that is the text of the full 3 minutes I had hoped to share.

Why is the STAFF, rather than the 25 PAC members, controlling this process?

At the end of the Feb. 28th meeting, PAC members are getting up from the table and leaving. An ODOT staffer says: “we didn’t reach a consensus”. She then asks: “did we get enough input to move forward?” You don’t see or hear the answer, but the person asking says “okay”. The meeting ends. Who’s in charge? It’s not the PAC members.


At the Feb 28th PAC meeting, the ODOT staff and hired outside consultants, recommended narrowing the options down to four major choices, and one minor (unlikely) choice.

NONE of the 25 PAC members got to vote or rank their preferences for the original eight options before they were reduced. Why not?

It would have been very easy to give each PAC member a one-page copy of the original 8 “options” and have the PAC rank them 1 to 8, in order of priority. Their “voice” and their priorities would have been formally considered. They would have formally known their fellow PAC members priorities. But no. Instead, the STAFF told the PAC members which options were most or least important.

During the meeting, several PAC members asked that other options be included. Their request was not heeded.

At the beginning, a PAC member stated that one of the options NOT moving forward appeared to have the best possible outcome in reducing traffic congestion.  This was Option 4 – build a new lane in each direction on both I-5 & I-205, and only TOLL those new lanes. But STAFF didn’t include Option 4 in those recommended for further study and evaluation.

We were told this wasn’t advancing due to the “astronomical cost”. Yet when PAC members asked what the cost was, so THEY could use their judgement and also report to their constituents, there was none. No cost estimates were created. Who’s in charge? Not the PAC members.

Several PAC members asked for traffic diversion information. One told us 50,000 vehicles are presently diverting to side roads. It’s a safety issue for neighborhoods. We know TOLLS will INCREASE traffic diversion. Yet no diversion analysis was done on the eight options before they were reduced.

Who’s in charge? Not the 25 people around this table. How sad for the citizens and taxpayers.

With HALF your meetings behind you, we now know that you want to change people’s behavior and alter how or when they travel our two interstates. Why doesn’t GOVERNMENT show the working citizens how easy it is to “change our behavior or travel patterns?” Why don’t government workers shift their work hours for example, from noon to 9 pm? Let’s see how that impacts traffic congestion. You expect taxpayers to change their behavior and travel, why don’t you change yours?


PAC member Paul Savas (Clackamas County Commissioner) addresses the issue later in the meeting.



PAC member Paul Savas says Ley comments regarding the Feb. 28th PAC meeting were “spot on”.

Oregon rejected common sense solution to traffic congestion

Oregon rejected common sense solution during tolling talks

By John Ley, Camas.

The April 10th, 2018 issue of The Reflector

At the Feb. ODOT “no-Value” Tolling Policy Advisory Committee (PAC) meeting, there were amazing developments citizens must know.

There were eight initial proposals offered, narrowed down to five by ODOT staff. There are basically four options going forward for further evaluation.

One of those options is to toll all lanes of both I-5 and I-205. If implemented, Portland would be the only place in the country to implement tolling on all lanes of an existing interstate.



The staff described the current traffic situation as “hyper congestion.” He also used the word “severe.”

Incredibly, members of the tolling committee were not offered information on the price or price ranges of tolls, the amounts that might be collected from each option, before the choices were narrowed.

Incredibly, members of the tolling committee were not offered information on traffic diversion impacts for each option, before the choices were narrowed.

The alleged purpose is to force people off the interstates. People will divert to alternate side roads to avoid the tolls. And yet no information was provided about traffic diversion before the eight choices were narrowed.

One PAC member shared there are already 50,000 vehicles presently diverting due to the horrible congestion. Any new traffic diversion will only make things worse. It increasingly becomes a safety issue for neighborhoods and communities.

Mayor Ann Ogle shared one option that is moving forward, had “5 failures” in the internal data. Why would an option with that many “failures” go forward?

Incredibly, part of the answer was that the staff and outside experts said they didn’t believe the model, for that part of the evaluation. Well if one part of the model is delivering “unbelievable” data or outputs, then why isn’t the entire evaluation model suspect?

Incredibly, there was no “ranking” of each option by the 25 tolling committee members. At the end, there was no “vote” affirming or rejecting the 5 projects ODOT staff recommended to move forward. Several PAC members asked for other options to be included in the next phase. They were ignored.

One sadly dropped from consideration, was “build a new lane in each direction on both I-5 and I-205, and toll just the new lanes.” (Option 4 in graphic above.) The initial indications showed this option had the best impact on congestion. It likely had the least traffic diversion and would ultimately reduce the 50,000 vehicles presently diverting.

Incredibly, it was dismissed due to the alleged “cost” of building that many miles of freeway lanes. But when the staff and experts were asked, “what is the cost so we can evaluate it, and share it with constituents,” they were not given the information. The staff never created costing models. The common sense solution was dismissed by staff, due to an unknown “cost.”

Ultimately, there is no “value” in Oregon’s “value pricing” tolling scheme. Sadly, with no votes to affirm or reject any of the staff options by the advisory committee, it demonstrates the entire process is controlled by unelected bureaucrats.

President Trump or Congress must kill it.


Light rail won’t solve congestion problems

Letter: Light rail won’t solve problems

By John Ley, Camas

Published: March 22, 2018 in The Columbian. (here)

Opinion Editor Greg Jayne’s March 11 column was right on target — citizens rejected light rail because it won’t solve congestion problems.

Only 1,500 people use C-Tran’s express bus service to Portland. It’s faster than light rail, even in current traffic. At almost $200 million per mile, MAX serves few people at significant cost.

John Charles of the Cascade Policy Institute reports (here) that TriMet’s mass transit serves 2.4 percent of commuters; ridership has been flat for decades. C-Tran ridership is down from its 2011 peak.

“Only 2.4 percent of total travel in the Portland region takes place on transit, making it irrelevant or even a nuisance to most taxpayers.”

— John Charles


When Interstate 205’s Glenn Jackson Bridge opened in 1982, 110,000 vehicles crossed the Columbia River on an average day. Today, there are 300,000. A new transportation corridor provided needed congestion relief back then. But refusing to build new vehicle capacity and new transportation corridors for three decades has caused our problems.

The Interstate 5 Bridge was “at capacity” with 100,000 vehicles when we built I-205. It’s easy to see that we need a third bridge, with 300,000 daily crossings now, and a fourth bridge in the near future.

At $500,000, buses can affordably serve mass-transit needs. Light rail is just too expensive at $200 million per mile. As Jayne says, it doesn’t go where people need to go. The $4 billion would have been better spent on roads and bridges and buses.


Jayne: Light rail’s local unpopularity shouldn’t beg the question

By Greg Jayne, Columbian Opinion Editor

Published: March 11, 2018, 6:02 AM

Greg Jayne, Opinion page editor

It was a good question. It was a fair question. It was a question that seemed born of genuine surprise: “Why don’t people here want light rail?”

That was the query from a member of the Portland Metro Area Value Pricing Advisory Committee during a recent meeting with The Columbian’s Editorial Board. And while the question was honest, it also was disconcerting.

You see, in addition to having a name that breaks the record for overly wordy euphemisms, the Portland Metro Area Value Pricing Advisory Committee is considering options for placing tolls along Interstate 5 and Interstate 205. The goal is to reduce congestion on the freeways that connect Clark County with Portland by charging people for driving on them. In other words, the name could be changed to the Portland Tolling Committee and save us all a lot of ink.

Considering that the issue is important to Clark County residents, representatives of the committee were gracious enough to meet with us and answer some questions. And when we mentioned that a lot of people here are not interested in light rail, there was a bit of surprise.

“Why don’t people here want light rail?”

It is a reasonable question. And while I cannot profess to speak for all of Clark County, I do know why I would rather gouge my eye with a pencil than invite light rail into our community. The primary reasons are my mother and mother-in-law and five sisters-in-law. Wait, let me reword that. The primary reason is the fact that Portland has spent more than $4 billion on a system that remains out of reach for most residents. I have numerous relatives who live within the Portland city limits, and none of them are within walking distance of a MAX station.

Most people who ride MAX need to drive their cars to a station and park, which kind of defeats the purpose of mass transit. Spending $4 billion — with about one-third of that coming from local funding — has been less efficient than building additional freeway lanes and increasing bus service.

Portland’s population density is roughly 4,400 people per square mile; this is not New York City, with a density of 28,000, or Washington, D.C., with density of 11,000. It is not New York or D.C. or even Seattle when it comes to millions upon millions of people visiting each year. This is Portland, where fixed-rail mass transit makes sense in the city’s core but not elsewhere. And it certainly does not make sense in Vancouver.

Fear doesn’t hold up

Now, before we go any further, it is important to debunk one of the reasons often cited for opposing light rail. The idea that transit would provide criminals with easy access to this side of the river is akin to saying, “some, I assume, are good people.” Last year’s TriMet report showed that there were 1,247 alleged crimes on or around the transit system in 2016, including buses and light rail. That is out of 99 million rides, meaning there was one reported crime for every 79,390 passenger trips. Odds are that climbing out of your bathtub is more hazardous.

There are valid reasons for opposing light rail in Clark County without generating unfounded fears. And there are valid reasons for explaining all of this to the Portland Tolling Committee.

Undoubtedly, there is a need for congestion relief throughout the Portland area. But in focusing upon I-5 and I-205, the committee seems intent upon targeting Washington drivers; if easing congestion truly was the goal, highways 26 and 217 to the west of Portland also would be considered, along with I-84 and I-405. And in focusing upon getting people out of their cars, they likely exposed a ploy for making light rail more acceptable to Clark County.

To be fair, committee members insist they are in the early planning stages and that all options are being considered. But in demonstrating a lack of knowledge about the roughly 70,000 Clark County residents who commute to Portland for work, they probably raised more questions than they answered.

“Congestion relief” (tolls) from around the country

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.”

In Seattle.

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.”