Tolling in Oregon
In 2017, the Oregon Legislature passed House Bill 2017, known as “Keep Oregon Moving.” This bill committed hundreds of millions of dollars in projects that will address our congestion problem and improve the transportation system in the region and statewide. HB 2017 funded bottleneck relief highway projects, freight rail enhancements, improvements to transit, and upgrades to biking and walking facilities. The Legislature also directed the Oregon Transportation Commission (OTC) to pursue and implement tolling on I-5 and I-205 in the Portland Metro region to help manage traffic congestion.
What is a toll?
A toll is a user fee. In this context, a fee imposed to drive on a road or bridge. Bridge tolls and roadway tolls have been used for centuries mostly to pay for construction and maintenance of the facility. Historically, travelers had to stop and pay a flat fee in cash to use the bridge or road. Often, large trucks paid a higher toll, but every driver paid the same amount regardless of time of day.
Examples of Tolled Bridges in Oregon
- Astoria-Megler Bridge, Columbia River (tolls removed in 1993)
- Interstate Bridge, Columbia River (tolls removed in 1966)
- Bridge of the Gods, Columbia River ($2 cash toll for passenger vehicles, discounts for pre-paid tolls, additional fees for trailers)
- Hood River Bridge, Columbia River ($2 cash toll for passenger vehicles, discounts for pre-paid tolls, additional fees for trailers)
Variable Rate Tolls
Fees to use a road or bridge can vary based on time of day and can be a strategy to shift demand to less congested times of day. A higher fee is charged during peak periods, such as morning or evening “rush” hour and a lower or no fee when there is little traffic. The idea is to provide an incentive for those with flexibility to avoid the busiest time of day. Charging different toll rates based on the volume of traffic is referred to by many names, including: congestion pricing, value pricing, variable pricing, variable rate tolling, peak-period pricing, or market-based pricing. The concept behind variable rate tolling is an economic tool used to manage supply and demand. It has been used in many industries outside of transportation as a way to smooth out demand.
Other Examples of Variable Pricing
- Higher prices for airline tickets and hotels during peak travel season.
- Happy hours or late-night dining menus to attract more customers during off-peak hours.
- Variable pricing for sporting events.
- Matinee movie prices.
Variable rate tolls can manage traffic on the highway resulting in faster, more reliable and predictable trips. Successful variable rate tolls or pricing programs make limited highway space more efficient by encouraging the use of other modes of travel or different trip times. If a small percentage of highway users choose another mode of travel or time of travel, traffic congestion is reduced for those who can’t modify their trip.
Features of Modern Tolling Systems
With advances in technology, roads can be managed with user fees to both improve traffic flow and raise revenue to pay for transportation improvements.
Today’s tolling systems do not require people to stop at toll booths. Pre-paid accounts connected to transponders (a device that collects fees electronically as you drive) or license plate readers allow drivers to pay a toll without slowing or stopping. Drivers without a pre-paid account are sent a bill in the mail with an added processing fee. The most appropriate technology for the Portland metropolitan area will be determined through the planning process which will begin in 2020. Options for individuals without access to bank accounts will be studied to limit barriers.
In variable rate systems, the cost of the toll can vary according to a set schedule or it can adjust dynamically based on traffic conditions. During periods of high traffic, the toll would go up. When traffic is relatively uncongested, the toll would go down, possibly to $0. This type of pricing encourages travel choices that make the most of the system, whether by encouraging the use of other modes of travel, carpooling, or choosing to take the trip at a different time of day. Typically, the small percentage of users who make another choice for travel can reduce traffic congestion for those who can't modify their trip, resulting in less congestion and more vehicles able to travel efficiently.
Variable tolling rates give people the choice for a faster highway trip when they really need it—like when they need to get to work, a medical appointment, or pick up their child from school or daycare. Successful pricing programs around the world are usually combined with transit improvements to provide additional travel choices for those not wanting to pay the toll.
ODOT's Primary Goal is Improved Travel on I-5 and I-205
With a toll, ODOT helps meet the goal of improved travel by managing traffic flow and helping to raise revenue for infrastructure improvements. The Keep Oregon Moving legislation (House Bill 2017) established a Congestion Relief Fund within the State Highway Fund, which would receive any net proceeds from tolling. Under the Oregon Constitution, the State Highway Fund must be spent on roadway projects, which could include travel lanes, bicycle and pedestrian facilities, or some transit improvements in or along the roadway such as enhanced transit stops.