State lawmaker Lori Chavez-DeRemer calls for review of ‘deeply flawed’ ODOT tolling plan

October 19, 20230

Chavez-DeRemer says the tolling projects should be rejected

Oct 18, 2023

by: Michaela Bourgeois

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer (OR-05) is calling for a review of the Oregon Department of Transportation’s Interstate 5 and Interstate 205 tolling plans amid concerns over how the projects are being implemented.

Following a House transportation committee hearing in late September, Chavez-DeRemer sent a letter on Oct. 16 to U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, outlining areas of ODOT’s “deeply flawed” tolling plans.

In her letter to Buttigieg, the congresswoman also criticized DOT’s approach to tolling.

“I am concerned that the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) currently approaches tolling with such uncritical deference. In Oregon, tolling moves forward despite intense public opposition, vague and shifting proposals, insufficient studies, superficial public outreach, and no cohesive mitigation strategy. Local leaders and residents furnish pages of concerns. Yet so far DOT, including the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), stands aloof,” Chavez-DeRemer wrote.

In her letter, Chavez-DeRemer pointed to four areas of concern on ODOT’s tolling plans including a “flawed environmental assessment.”

According to Chavez-DeRemer, several cities and Clackamas County have submitted public comments sharing concerns about the assessment which she says did not recognize tolling would divert traffic to nearby communities.

She also noted that changes to the Regional Mobility Pricing Project have changed “numerous times” and leaves “Oregonians in the dark and confused as to what the project would actually look like.”

She’s also concerned about ODOT’s “failed” public outreach, claiming, “ODOT has admitted that it ‘missed the mark’ on public outreach for the project, and the surveys the department has conducted contain leading questions to create the perception of public support for tolling.”

She furthered that infrastructure projects around Clackamas County would be adversely impacted by tolling.

According to ODOT, the I-205 tolling project on the Abernethy Bridge is the farthest along in planning and environmental review. After the scope of the project has decreased after Gov. Tina Kotek delayed toll collection until 2026, ODOT says its conducting a supplemental environmental assessment.

Pending environmental review and federal approval, ODOT plans on using a bridge toll to fund more than half of the $662 million needed to make the Abernethy Bridge earthquake ready.

ODOT has also nixed plans to toll the Tualatin River Bridge and adding a third lane to that portion of I-205.

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ODOT is also in the planning and design stage of the Regional Mobility Pricing Project on I-5 and I-205 from the Columbia River to Wilsonville to reduce congestion and fund improvements to those corridors.

In her letter to Buttigieg, Chavez-DeRemer says the tolling projects should be rejected.

“It is my position that tolling on I-205 and I-5 should be denied on policy and process grounds. To the extent granted under federal laws and regulations, please bring this avoidable disaster to a halt. At a minimum, I ask you to please bring greater oversight and accountability from DOT to this broken process. By so doing, I believe tolling can ultimately be set aside, and we can move forward with real transportation solutions for Oregonians,” Chavez-DeRemer said.

In a statement to KOIN 6 News, an ODOT spokesperson said “we will continue to work with our partners at the Federal Highway Administration to ensure our toll projects meet all federal requirements. The future of Oregon’s transportation system depends on diverse, stable funding sources. We look forward to building a successful toll program with regional input and guidance.”

John Ley

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