ODOT proposes tolls to ease Portland highway congestion


In an attempt to ease congestion on Portland highways, the Oregon State Department of Transportation is actively exploring the idea of adding toll lanes on Interstate 5 and Interstate 205.

State lawmakers recently directed the agency to submit an application to the federal government to allow congestion pricing on those highways.

“Other cities have used congestion pricing very effectively to reduce demand. So not only Seattle, LA has done it. We've looked at Stockholm, we looked at London,” said Leah Treat, Director of the Portland Bureau of Transportation, which is working in concert with ODOT and Multnomah County on the tolling proposal.

In Seattle, the closest major city to Portland, express lanes on I-405 and hot lanes on State Route 167 are voluntary, which means drivers can choose to pay toll to save a few minutes, and drivers who carpool can use the lanes for free.

Tolls on the 520 Bridge across Lake Washington, however, are mandatory, with drivers paying to access the direct route between Seattle and Bellevue.

While some drivers in Portland support the idea of tolling to ease congestion, others are skeptical.

“I've never seen having to pay a toll be super effective getting somebody from one place to another faster,” said Ana Henige, a local commuter.

According to PBOT, a recent traffic study showed that 26 percent of the trips on the I-5 corridor during the evening peak are discretionary, meaning someone could have taken the trip at a different time of day, when there are fewer cars on the road.

“Congestion pricing is a proven tool to help people make different decisions about how they time their trips,” said Treat. “If we could get 26 percent of the trips off the roadway at the p.m. peak, it would have the same impact on throughput as building an auxiliary lane.”

An auxiliary lane on I-5 in the Rose Quarter is also in the planning stages, with ODOT hoping to add a lane in the near future.

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and the City Council plan to ask the state to wait to see if congestion pricing will have an impact before moving forward with construction.

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