Toll roads in Oregon? ODOT checking FAST

Any tolls are years away, but ODOT is looking into it

Cars on an Oregon highway, February 28, 2017 (KOIN)
Cars on an Oregon highway, February 28, 2017 (KOIN)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – There could be an Oregon toll road in your future. Oregon transportation officials intend to seek federal approval for interstate tolls.

Travis Brouwer, the assistant director at the Oregon Department of Transportation, told KOIN 6 News the agency is serious about landing one of two open spots in the federal program — Fix America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) — that allows states to put tolls on their interstates.

“Anyone who drives in Portland has seen how bad the congestion has gotten,” Brouwer said.

A car travels through a partially dismantled toll booth as all-electronic tolling is underway on the Massachusetts Turnpike, Monday, Oct. 31, 2016, in Boston. There are no more cash tolls. Motorists with E-Z Pass transponders will be charged automatically as they pass under one of the 16 electronic gantries on the 135-mile highway. Those without transponders will be billed by mail. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
A car travels through a partially dismantled toll booth as all-electronic tolling is underway on the Massachusetts Turnpike, Monday, Oct. 31, 2016, in Boston. . (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

ODOT hopes to submit an application for one of the 3 spots in the “FAST Act Tolling Program” to help deal with the trouble spots in the Portland metro.

No openings have been confirmed by the Federal Highway Administration or the program’s manager.

President Donald Trump has yet to fill posts in the U.S. Department of Transportation. Brouwer said the people who fill these open jobs would be crucial to any decisions about tolling.

Those trouble spots — I-5 through the Rose Quarter, I-205 at the Abernethy Bridge where it spans the Willamette River, and Highway 217 — all present growing congestion problems.

ODOT Assistant Director Travis Brouwer, February 28, 2017 (KOIN)
ODOT Assistant Director Travis Brouwer, February 28, 2017 (KOIN)

“Those are all major projects and together they cost around a billion dollars,” Brouwer said. “That is not money that ODOT currently has and even if there is additional funding for transportation, it may not be adequate to fund all of those major congestion relief projects that we need to keep the region, people and economy moving.”

Tolling is potentially one revenue mechanism to help fill the gap in those projects, he said.

“We’re actually getting less money today than we did seven years ago from the federal government. At the state level our gas tax is not keeping up with the combined effects of inflation and fuel efficiency,” Brouwer said. “As a result we’re trying to look creatively at how we’re actually going to meet the needs of a growing state and economy; We hear all across the state about how congestion in the Portland metro region actually affects the economy of communities all around Oregon.”

Commuters acknowledge the problem but also want to know more before agreeing to pay up to speed up.

“If we were provided a breakdown of how much the project was going to cost and get an estimate of the revenue that it was going to generate, then I would be able to form a decision,” one commuter told KOIN 6 News.

Brouwer said even if ODOT is accepted to the FAST Act Tolling Program, “this is not going to be a real fast process.”

It will be years before there’s any toll on an Oregon roadway. First, they have to learn if tolls foot the bill, how they’ll affect traffic patterns and then take public input.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.