Officials celebrate Kotek’s decision to axe freeway tolling project but remain concerned about future programs

Elected officials and community leaders from West Linn and the surrounding area are applauding Gov. Tina Kotek’s decision to scrap the Oregon Department of Transportation’s Regional Mobility Pricing Project.

The plan, also known as the RMPP, would have brought tolls to I-5 and I-205 between the Columbia River and Wilsonville.

Kotek’s decision was announced in a March 11 letter to the Oregon Transportation Commission, the body appointed by the governor that oversees ODOT. While local leaders, who have long opposed ODOT’s plans for tolling, commended Kotek’s letter, they questioned whether she also intended to kill the I-205 Toll Project, an initiative separate from but related to the RMPP which would have brought tolls just to the Abernethy Bridge.

ODOT intended the I-205 Toll Project to fund a portion of the Abernethy Bridge seismic improvements, which are already underway. Though some money has already been allocated for the project, the state faces a shortfall of about $400 million, which was meant to be covered by the I-205 Toll Project.

West Linn Mayor Rory Bialostosky thanked Kotek for listening to the concerns of the community and halting the RMPP, but said he remained concerned about tolls at the Abernethy Bridge, which were not specifically mentioned in the governor’s letter.

“The less tolling near West Linn, the better,” he said. “But I won’t celebrate until we have the answer that the plan to fund the bridge doesn’t involve tolling.”

Asked for clarification about the I-205 Toll Project, Anca Matica, press secretary for Kotek, said tolling at the Abernethy Bridge was delayed to give the Legislature time to find alternative revenue sources in the 2025 legislative session.

“Should alternatives fail to come forward, the state will either need to resume tolling operations or reallocate nearly $400M from other projects,” Matica said in an email.

ODOT Director Kris Strickler said the agency looked forward to working with partners across the region to “identify resilient funding solutions to maintaining a safe, accessible, and sustainable system.”

“Tolling can be a critical tool to address our most significant transportation needs in the Portland metro region, from generating revenue to funding needed improvements to managing demand through congestion pricing,” Strickler said in a statement to media following news of Kotek’s decision. “Despite years of work with local and regional elected officials, community leaders, and members of the public, it is clear the toll program cannot be designed in a way that meets the needs expressed by our local partners while also meeting the needs of Oregonians statewide.”

As recently as Friday, March 7, four days before Kotek’s decision, ODOT’s Urban Mobility Office put out new information about the toll collection program via the Urban Mobility Strategy Newsletter.

Other local leaders from West Linn and the surrounding area applauded Kotek’s decision as well.

Metro Councilor Christine Lewis, who lives in West Linn, said she was thankful Kotek took seriously the community’s concerns about tolling.

“I stand ready and willing to find short- and long-term revenue options that both build our deferred projects and fund our local streets to the standards we need for safety and climate resiliency,” Lewis said in a statement. “With this door closing I see much more urgent need to look at other funding sources, innovations, and collaboration between governments. Cheers to all my (Metro) District 2 friends and leaders who have been working so hard to stand up for our communities.”

State legislators from the area including Rep. Jules Walters, D-West Linn, Rep. Courtney Neron, D-Wilsonville, and Rep. Annessa Hartman, D-Gladstone, voiced opposition to ODOT’s tolling plan for several years and expressed similar thanks to Kotek.

“Our communities did not support shouldering an outsized burden for interstate infrastructure, and this tolling reversal means a lot to those who live and work here,” the legislators said in a joint statement. “We collaborated with regional elected leaders and staff to amplify our constituent’s concerns. The proposals we saw would have placed an inequitable economic impact on the residents and businesses of Clackamas County and parts of Washington County.

“Now, we as legislators will work in 2025 to identify equitable solutions for a safe, modern

transportation system, and seek community input every step of the way.”

As for the movement to put tolling on the ballot in November’s election, the Vote Before Tolls Committee said it was pausing its efforts for now.

“The Vote Before Tolls Committee is pausing our efforts to put IP-4 on the 2024 ballot, but we intend to re-file for 2026 to keep the pressure on Salem and ODOT,” chief petitioner Dean Suhr said in a press release. “The tolling battle is not done. The governor’s tolling halt is political maneuvering and likely does not stop all local tolling. IP-4 on the 2024 ballot is a risk to the election and re-election of legislators who think they can tax the citizens at will. They don’t want the citizens to have the right to have a say in how their money is spent – and they certainly don’t want us to have the right to stop them in their tracks with a vote.”

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