Tolls could make congestion worse – Hasso Hering


A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Tolls could make congestion worse

Written August 16th, 2018 by Hasso Hering

Congested traffic on I-5 south of Portland in August last year.

Oregon is preparing to impose tolls on two freeway segments in Portland as a way to reduce congestion. From the standpoint of people in the Willamette Valley who occasionally have to drive to the Portland airport, let’s hope the tolls won’t make congestion worse.

On Thursday, meeting in John Day, about as far away from congestion as you can get in Oregon, the Oregon Transportation Commission told ODOT to go ahead with what officials call “congestion pricing.” The first step, still years away because the administrative process is slow and federal permission is required, is to impose tolls at two locations in the metro area. One is a seven-mile stretch of I-5. The other is near the George Abernethy Bridge over the Willamette River on I-205.

The ODOT announcement on this didn’t mention how the state would propose to collect any toll on those freeways. (Which, by the way, we probably then would no longer call “freeways.”)

Would they set up old-fashioned toll booths where you stop and pay an attendant? That would surely make the congestion even worse and cause slowdowns and complete traffic jams many miles long.

More likely, they would devise some automatic means to collect the toll. Vehicles equipped with transponders already used in the OReGo mileage tax program presumably could be billed extra if they are recorded going through the tolled sections. But what about the millions of other vehicles not so equipped? For them, a way of collecting payments has to be put in place.

ODOT has to work out lots of other details. Such as how to prepare for added congestion on surface streets in the Portland area if drivers avoid the toll roads. And how to work out a system to keep poor people from being disadvantaged by the tolls, for that too is part of the plan.

But my main question for now is this: Exactly how will they collect the money without making congestion even worse? (hh)

To get here to PDX, valley residents would face tolls on I-5 or 205.



Posted in: Uncategorized

18 responses to “Tolls could make congestion worse”

  1. Terry says:


  2. Mullins says:

    In Seattle, a camera system logs license plates that go through the 520 bridge toll and you are sent a bill via vehicle registration records for the toll payment. You don’t stop for payment going either direction. Congestion was somewhat better on that route but it did increase congestion on other non tolled routes going east/west.

  3. Doug Klinkebiel says:

    “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

  4. Hazel Siebrecht says:

    My husband & I used a toll road in Colorado several years ago. A few weeks later we received a bill with $2.36 due. I am sure that was cost effective for the State of Colorado; we sent a check but I have to wonder how many people would and what would be the repercussions if we hadn’t.

  5. J. Jacobson says:

    Toll roads are one thing. But, how about government television.
    I just happened to be flipping through my Xfinity channel-choosing function when I came across Channel 28 and Channel 29.

    Channel 28 is titled “Albany Government Access” while channel 29 is titled “Corvallis Community Access.”

    On Albany Government Access channel, the primary programming consists of a speeded-up version of last year’s Veterans Day Parade.
    Meanwhile, on the Corvallis Community Access Channel, they feature any number of locally-produced public interest/awareness programs designed to inform the public rather than feed simplistic City government propaganda.

    The question begged is:. Why is it that Albany’s channel limits itself to regurgitating government meetings and endless replays of a parade shot and edited by a City Councilor, whereas the Corvallis channel actually allows it’s local citizenry access to the channel….hence the name, “Community Access.”

    It strikes this viewer that Albany Government Access is really Albany Government Monopoly versus Corvallis Community Access, wherein the people who actually pay to have an access channel have the ability to program that channel.

    Meanwhile, Albany leaders, who ONLY pay for the Government Access Channel if they happen to be Xfinity/Comcast subscribers, monopolize the Albany airwaves in order to feed a placid audience more government agitprop and the absurd, endless loop of a speeded-up parade. How did this come to be?

    • GregB says:

      And what does gov’t TV have to do with toll roads? Maybe you should start your own blog on what you want to talk/write about JJ.

      • J. Jacobson says:

        The distance between toll roads and government TV is so minuscule as to be statistically insignificant. Both are paid for by you, me and all taxpayers/toll payers. How our Fearless Leaders perform a task may clearly indicate those same Fearless Leaders’ ability/inability to perform other tasks.

        The only thing more dangerous is to assume that the “Private Sector” is somehow more capable of making good choices for the great unwashed. They are not.

        The entire universe is intimately connected.

    • centrist says:

      Not to encourage offtopic comment, but there’s another possibility— there’s no citizen activity to post, so they run what they have.

      • J. Jacobson says:

        In Corvallis, where the channel is called “Community Access,” the cable company and the City built facilities that can be utilized by citizens to produce their own uncensored stories.

        Meanwhile, the City of Albany apparently decided the principle mission of access television is the dissemination of government-centric information. Albany does not have any Access video equipment or studio space.

        So when you say that perhaps the Albany Government Channel doesn’t have much in the way of community involvement because no one in Albany has anything to contribute (other than the government officialdom) I would posit that the City, when it first forced Comcast to provide a dedicated channel, decided Albany citizens needed government-propogated information rather than citizen-based programming.

        I would suggest you look to Salem’s CCTV community access channel. The people in that community produce a great deal of programming and the citizens in Salem with Comcast Service need not watch endless repetitions of City Council sessions and speeded-up versions of the Albany Veterans Day Parade.

        Just sayin’

    • Bob Woods says:

      Nothing to do with toll roads at all, but maybe you can learn something.

      CATV uses public right-of-way to run their cables and sell their wares. In doing so they are required to pay for the use of that property, the same way anyone would expect to be paid if a commercial company set-up shop in their yard.

      It’s called capitalism, something too many conservatives seem to not understand. You want something, you pay for it. The price the city exacts is a cash charge, plus the use of channels to provide a way for the public to get information without having to drag their butt’s to City Hall.

      I’m sure you see that as an egregious affront to your life, but remember it’s part of the basic package that everyone who uses cable pays for. You don’t use cable, you don’t pay. NO ONE FORCES YOU TO USE CABLE. It’s your choice. Also, public access channels are common in most every city of a certain size in every state of the union.

      So Ms, Jacobson, your outrage is merely the result of a person who is learning how the world works. We’re OK with that but the time has come for you to do a little research on your own before you choose to offer your proffered outrage over an issue merely because it’s new to you, especially when it’s off-topic.

  6. Taylor ward says:

    This is so stupid what will they use the money for.? Freeway repair and isnt that what we pay gas taxes for.. it wont stop people from driving if they have to go they will go.. odot needs to get a grip

    • Ray Kopczynski says:

      “…isnt that what we pay gas taxes for[?]”

      LOL – The current gas tax would need to be well over $1/gal to even come close to repairing the infrastructure… Albanyites decry even a minuscule 5-cents/gal. increase earmarked to get a minuscule start on repairing Albany roads…

  7. Kate Huber says:

    Perhaps I’m mistaken but it seems in California there’s a choice, take the toll road to get to your destination faster or take another highway/freeway. I hope Portland is not thinking about a toll road with the only other choice being surface streets….

  8. HowlingCicada says:

    Before I “step in it,” I propose a Constitutional Amendment requiring all government entities to publish a budget which includes a single, combined, dollar amount for all income – including taxes, fees, licenses, fines, and tolls. Maybe that will dampen the endless howls of “All they want is more money” whenever a rational change is proposed. Overcharges could fund the Oregon kicker instead of its current silly rules.

    OK, so why is congestion pricing the greatest invention in whichever century it started?

    For certain types of scarce resources, if you can reduce the peak consumption just a little bit with the right incentives, you can avoid spending vast amounts of money to increase capacity, or spend some of that money for desperately-needed maintenance. Other examples are parking, electric power, and water. This is especially significant in transportation, which is likely to experience big technological and social impacts in the near future, probably leading to less congestion than would be expected with increasing population.

    The money saved could go a long way to help alternatives (public transportation, bike accommodations, etc) which will further reduce the “freeway” demand and also help “poor people … being disadvantaged by the tolls.”

    • Bob Woods says:

      For revenue totals information try this:

      Go to Budget page 38 ( NOT the page numbers in your PDF reader which are different) and look at the far right Column called Totals. If you want more detail on the individual revenue lines you have to drill deeper, because there are a lot of individual details than the category totals. That is probably better handled by going to the online Transparency info that you can click through:!/year/default

      • HowlingCicada says:

        Thank you. Because of Hasso’s work and commenters like you I know more about the workings of Albany than of my home, Corvallis.

    • HowlingCicada says:

      A couple more thoughts …

      If the only reason for tolls is to pay for roads, then maybe tolls are just a minor nuisance that could just as well be handled by higher fuel tax. Congestion pricing is the “killer app” that makes tolls worthwhile. For more on it, see:

      “””Exactly how will they collect the money without making congestion even worse?”””

      There’s an organization dealing with issues like this, from the business-advocacy side, but a good starting point for anyone interested, lots of publications. “The International Bridge, Tunnel & Turnpike Association (IBTTA) is the worldwide association for the owners and operators of toll facilities and the businesses that serve them.”

      • Hasso Hering says:

        Thanks for all the informative comments. As I now understand from readers, tolls are easily collected these days by means of radio frequency ID tags installed in vehicles, similar to the Easy Pass system used by truckers on Oregon freeways. The incentive to install an Easy Pass gizmo for toll paying is that vehicles without one are charged a higher toll amount via the mail (after the license plates have been read).

        We can expect, though, that people who objected to the OReGO mileage tax system for fear of constant surveillance will have qualms about a radio frequency ID tag as well.


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