Let The People Vote

By Jeff Gudman

Lake Oswego residents should be able to vote – and its elected officials should take a strong stand by voting – on the establishment of a new fee/tax for installing two tolling stations on Interstate 205 because the $9.5 million Lake Oswego households will be paying annually in perpetuity outweighs the benefits coming from tolling.

In 2017 and 2021 the Oregon state legislature passed House Bill (HB) 2017 and HB 3055 giving the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) the ability to institute road pricing, otherwise known as tolling/congestion pricing with the purpose of paying for improvements on I-205 and I-5. Six years later the ODOT I-205 Environmental Assessment (EA) report for the I-205 freeway between Highway 213 and Stafford Road of about 2,000 pages has been published. The I-205 EA is an impressive document comparing the impact of build/no build. Buried deep within the appendixes and footnotes are details of what Lake Oswego households can and can’t expect.

HB 2017 passed as part of the Oregon state transportation act to establish tolling on the freeways to make bridges earthquake resistant, add a third lane on I-205 between Oregon City and Stafford Road, manage congestion, improve safety, respond to climate change, address social and environmental justice, mitigate diversion and generate revenue to pay for everything. One tolling gantry at the Abernathy Bridge and one gantry at the Tualatin River Bridge will be installed. Tolling is scheduled to begin in late 2024 on I-205. Additional gantries/tolls are planned for the rest of I-205, I-5 and the two interstate bridges. Bottom line is any user of the freeways will pay to use I-205 (I-5 to the Glenn Jackson Bridge) and I-5 (Boone Bridge to Columbia River Interstate Bridge).

Tolling has benefits, it also has costs. According to the EA, short term the build alternative will not result in any negative economic effects during construction; therefore, no mitigation is proposed. Long term NO additional mitigation measures for long term and indirect economic impacts are warranted beyond those identified in the report.

There are two kinds of mitigation. First, some kind of mitigation efforts will be made to help low-income Oregonians. Second, infrastructure measures to mitigate the diversion of traffic onto Lake Oswego roads. The infrastructure mitigations for Lake Oswego are: 1) a third lane on I-205 between Oregon City and Stafford Road; 2) signal coordination/adoptive signal control at 5 locations on State Street between A Avenue and McVey Avenue; 3) pedestrian improvements at the intersection of McVey Avenue and Highway 43 including enhanced signing for motorist awareness, improved pedestrian crossing and leading pedestrian intervals (walking before the light changes) at the intersection and; 4) just outside the city at the intersection of Stafford Road and Rosemont Road there will be improved lighting for pedestrians and bicycles and a rectangular flashing beacon across the north leg of the intersection.

What is the dollar cost to Lake Oswego households for this new fee/tax? According to the EA the estimated annual weekday tolls in the first year in 2021 dollars will be $575 per household per year. This does not include tolls from weekend driving or from additional toll stations on I-205 and I-5. There are 16,500 households in Lake Oswego. Therefore, Lake Oswego households will pay approximately $9.5 million per year in tolls. This is the equivalent of a permanent greater than 6% increase in every household’s property taxes. $9.5 million a year for 30 years is approximately equal to a $175 million bond. If the city wanted to establish a NEW tax/fee to support a bond measure of $175 million they should ask the residents. The tolling is permanent.

If there are no tolls, there will be no improvements or mitigation. There are many moving pieces but at its core are simple question of increased fees/taxes, costs and benefits.

The Oregon City and West Linn city councils and the Clackamas County Commission have voted against tolling I-205 since they determined the costs to their cities/county outweigh the benefits. Washington County commission voted in favor. The Lake Oswego city council should make their position clear by voting. Do the benefits of a significant permanent increase in taxes/fees from tolling and mitigation outweigh the costs?

Let the people of Lake Oswego vote. If the public determines a new additional fee/tax is worth the benefits provided, then proceed. If not, the all of us can deal with the consequences of increased congestion on I-205 and elsewhere.

Unless the legislature acts or the initiative petition on tolling succeeds, tolling on I-205 and I-5 will happen.

Let the council take a vote. Let the people vote.

Jeff Gudman
4088 Orchard Way
He can be reached at JGudman7150@msn.com
Jeff Gudman served as a Lake Oswego city councilor from 2011-2018.