By Holly Bartholomew
Concerned about traffic that will divert off of I-205 to avoid tolls, West Linn city councilors want the Oregon Department of Transportation to synchronize the launch of tolling on I-205 with the start of tolling on other freeways throughout the region.
Currently, tolling on I-205 from Stafford Road to the Abernethy Bridge is set to begin in 2024, with the tolls for the rest of I-205 and I-5 through the Portland region launching a year later.
During a presentation to the West Linn City Council Monday, Sept. 19, ODOT Toll Policy Manager Garet Prior said the agency hopes to cut back on time spent on the federal analysis of the region-wide toll program so that both tolling projects go live at the same time. However, the current schedule still has the toll programs beginning one year apart.
According to Prior, ODOT will need money from the I-205 tolls in 2024 to complete the I-205 improvement project, but West Linn councilors said they feel it’s unfair for West Linn to bear the brunt of tolls before the rest of the metro area.
“We in West Linn are being experimented on. Although there is a perception that everybody in West Linn has some wealth and lots of leeway, it’s not true,” Councilor Mary Baumgardner said. “There’s a huge number of people, older people who are aging in place, families and businesses, who are struggling. Now we’re going to saddle our community with not only the impact of having to pay to drive on a road, but also the whole impact of diversion traffic.”
In addition to the remainder of I-205 improvements, Prior said funds from the tolls will go toward improvements on local roadways to lessen the impacts of traffic diverting to avoid the freeway.
Councilor Todd Jones expressed concerns about the study metrics ODOT uses to determine where those toll dollars could go to help with mitigation, noting several intersections not identified on the map presented by Prior.
“I’m surprised to not see noted here: Stafford and Borland, Ek and Borland, Ostman and Willamette Falls Drive,” Jones said. “We know those intersections are going to be impacted because we drive those every day, and I can’t believe they have not already been flagged for mitigation.”
Mayor Jules Walters expressed the same concern, saying, “We’ll see a lot of people leaving (I-205) at Stafford, taking Ek or Borland to Willamette Falls Drive, which is already backed up.”
Prior said that the environmental and mitigation analyses were not yet complete, adding they require “a lot of informed guesswork.”
The draft assessment, which will indicate where ODOT plans to use tolling money for mitigation, is scheduled for completion later this year, according to Prior. The ODOT staffer added that the study is based on federal requirements.
Council President Rory Bialostosky said he’d like ODOT to further educate the community about tolling. In his discussions with family, friends and other community members, Bialostosky said many people still have no idea tolling is coming to the area. He suggested ODOT use the information boards on the region’s freeways to inform people when the next comment period on the toll project is coming.