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Electronic Tolling
Paying more for driving in Oregon

In 2017, the legislature established what is now ORS 383.150, the Traffic Congestion Relief Program. It describes value pricing to reduce traffic congestion. What is disguised behind the fancy title is the implementation of toll roads in Oregon.

Representative Tina Kotek (D-Portland) has introduced an Amendment(-8) as a “gut-and-stuff” to HB 3065. It now modifies the “Transportation Projects” to include funding for toll projects established in ORS 383.150, the Traffic Congestion Relief Program.

Added to ORS 383.001, the Legislative Assembly finds that:

Section 5(10)” Significant traffic congestion adversely impacts Oregon’s economy and the quality of life of Oregon’s communities. Where appropriate, variable rate tolls should be applied to reduce traffic congestion and support the state’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals.”

Revises language to prioritize ‘electronic toll collection system’ that doesn’t require a vehicle to stop using transponder readers and license plate capture cameras to collect tolls. Extends the source of money for the Toll Program Fund to gifts, legislative allotment, federal sources and fees paid for information. The usage of funds is extended to develop and implement toll programs, and make improvements on tollways or adjacent highways to reduce impacts of diversion for tolling.

In addition to the state revenue bonds that obligates future generations to pay, the ‘tollway project revenue bonds’ are to be held “superior to any other lien or charge and to any law of the state requiring the department to spend moneys for tollway project revenue projects.” The -8 will extend short-term borrowing by the State Treasurer to allow various types of credit agreements to $600 million to mature in five years. The department shall pay for borrowing “Using funds from the State Highway Fund or other funds that are legally available to the department or State Treasurer for the purposes for which the moneys were borrowed, including moneys received by the department or State Treasurer from the United States government.”

Section 8 (7) is looking for excuses to use constitutionally collected road taxes to cover costs for structural changes needed for tolling, taking funds from improving roads and infrastructure in rural areas. “Moneys in the Toll Program Fund that are transferred from the State Highway Fund or are derived from any revenues under Article IX, section 3a, of the Oregon Constitution, may be used only for purposes permitted by Article IX, section 3a, of the Oregon Constitution.”

Asking the impossible, requirements for tolling are to “reduce traffic congestion not only on the tollway but also on adjacent, connected or parallel highways to the tollways, regardless of ownership.” Unless adjacent or parallel highways are blocked, it only follows that people will choose alternate routes. That may impact low-income housing neighborhoods that tend to line high traffic highways. This requirement may also be impossible: “Minimize and mitigate impacts to historically and currently underrepresented and disadvantaged communities.”

The big question is whether the constitution language can be stretched to somehow include existing highways that are already paid for.

SECTION 35 (1) “To the extent necessary and permitted by state and federal law and section 3a, Article IX of the Oregon Constitution, toll projects on interstate highways shall include investments to make improvements or fund efforts to reduce congestion, improve safety and reduce impacts of diversion as a result of the toll project.”

There is also the constitutionality question on ‘equitable income-based toll rates’. All this will need to be part of the hearing on May 11, 2021, 8 A.M. before the Joint Committee on Transportation if they expect to find favor with the majority of voters who oppose tolling.


--Donna Bleiler

Post Date: 2021-05-09 10:00:20Last Update: 2021-05-09 10:35:58



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