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Oregon tolling committee sends ‘congestion pricing’ recommendation to OTC

The committee studying tolls on Portland area freeways has delivered its recommendation to the Oregon Transportation Commission (OTC), which will now be considered as it develops a congestion pricing proposal for submittal to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) by the end of the year.

The report is the product of the 25-member Portland Metro Area Value Pricing Policy Advisory Committee, which met six times between November 2017 and June 2018. The OTC created the committee to develop a recommendation for congestion pricing on Interstates 5 and 205.

In 2017, the Oregon Legislature approved HB 2017, ‘Keep Oregon Moving’, which directed the OTC to pursue congestion pricing on the I-5 and I-205 corridors, or segments of them, from the Columbia River to where the two highways meet near Tualatin. The report reflects input provided by the Policy Advisory Committee in its sixth and final meeting on June 25.

Value pricing, also known as congestion pricing, is a broad term covering an array of tolling options in which a higher price is set for driving on a road when demand is greater, usually in the morning and evening rush hours. Often used in Express Lanes or Integrated Corridor Management (ICM) projects, the goal of variable pricing is to reduce congestion by encouraging some people to travel at less congested times or use alternate modes, and to provide users with a more reliable trip. Transit improvements are also a typical component of pricing programs.

The Oregon committee recommended that:
• Any congestion pricing program should include strategies to improve public transportation, provisions to support environmental justice and low-income populations, and ways to minimize freeway diversion onto local roads;
• Congestion pricing pilot projects should continue to be studied on I-5 through downtown Portland, and on I-205 near the Abernethy Bridge and near Stafford Road, to learn more about the effectiveness of congestion pricing in these areas;
• The congestion pricing effort should be phased, with a two-tier approach that starts with pilot projects tolling segments of I-5 and I-205, and eventually tolling both corridors between the state line and their intersection near Tualatin;
• Revenue from tolls collected in the region should be used to improve the regional transportation system.

The advisory committee also recommended that the OTC start to consider a long-term congestion pricing plan for freeways throughout the Portland area, and start planning for additional system capacity to accommodate future growth.

The OTC now wants to hear from the public on the committee’s recommendations, with their comments provided to the OTC prior to its August meeting when it will provide direction to ODOT. The OTC will also provide an opportunity for public comment at its August meeting and on the final proposal it takes up in November, which will then be sent to the FHWA.

July 9, 2018

Written by Adam Frost

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