Tolling won’t relieve traffic congestion — we need new lanes and vehicle capacity
Oregon Catalyst — Wednesday August 30, 2023
By Oregon State Representative E. Werner Reschke
Roads. We all need them. We all use them. But how do we make sure Roadways are adequate to meet our transportation needs?
The problem occurs when the number of vehicles in any given time period exceeds the road’s capacity. Unfortunately, that occurs several times a day on the highways surrounding the Portland Metro-area. Unless the state does something about it, traffic jams are here to stay. Fortunately, there are solutions being discussed to solve this problem.
Discourage Driving, Limit Demand
The first solution is one most Democrats have adopted. It is to “modernize” the transportation system by discouraging more cars or trucks. Their idea augments the transportation system for alternative travel, such as bikes, car pooling or public transit. Another element to their modernization is to introduce congestion pricing (aka tolling) to our highways.
Most Oregonians bristle at the idea of tolling. The permission for the government to begin tolling our highways was passed by the legislature in 2017. Now ODOT wants to toll portions of I-205 and I-5, not necessarily to raise funds to build more lanes but to discourage travel during certain hours of the day. Under this system it would cost more to travel the same stretch of highway during rush hour and less at 4:00am. The Democrat-led approach to traffic is the same as many of their other solutions to key problems: limit demand through increased taxation and regulation.
The other approach to lowering congestion on our roadways is to increase supply, not discourage demand. In this case it would mean creating more lanes and improving interchanges on our busiest highways to increase the highway’s capacity. Since the turn of the century, Oregon’s population has grown by nearly 25% but very few of our major highways were expanded to accommodate the increase. What did government officials think would happen?
Expanding lanes in key areas creates more supply (more roadway) to handle more traffic. However, this approach is offensive to some in the Democrat party because they literally have stated they want “no more roads”. Their reasoning stems from the extreme belief that automobiles add CO2 to the atmosphere, until we all burn up. The more drivers, the more damage to the planet. Therefore their solution increases revenue to the state while restricting individual traveling freedom.
Besides the additional expense to your pocketbook, the other problem with tolling is a violation of your privacy. Back in mid-20th century when toll roads began to emerge payment was done with cash. The government didn’t know, or care, about who was traveling where, as long as the right coins were thrown in the toll basket. However, as technology has advanced, today’s tolling will be nearly 100% electronic. That means the government will track exactly when and where any vehicle passes through one of its checkpoints. What’s worse is that the state will save that information. Today when you travel, it is mostly anonymous. Tomorrow, with modern tolling, that will no longer be the case. Once you pass through a tolling checkpoint, these stations record a digital record of your travel stored on state servers. The government will know when and where you traveled, and remember that information indefinitely.
The real solution to traffic congestion on our major highways is to make traveling easier, not to track it or discourage it. However, there are far too many in government who wish to see us travel less and stay at home more. Deep down they believe, traveling in automobiles is only for the powerful and for those connected to that leadership — the “important people”. The rest of us don’t need cars and if we do need to travel we should take public transportation.
While tolling may not be a subject you are concerned about now, once it starts it will expand to a highway near you. Now is the time to say “NO” to tolling and tell your government to expand our highways, not their bank accounts. Some argue that government needs the additional money from tolling to build the roads we want. But consider this, Oregon’s gas tax is one of the highest in the nation. Our state gas tax is 38¢/gallon. In Colorado it’s 24¢, Nevada 24¢ and in Texas 20¢. Where does all that money go that ODOT collects, specifically for roads?
Simply put, we need to demand government do a better job of providing basic services. At the same time we need to demand accountability by restricting the size and scope of what they do, not the other way around. Especially since too many in government think the only solution to fixing traffic problems on our highways is to limit and to track your private travel while collecting some of the highest road taxes in the nation.