As the federal FAST Act tolling program moves forward, Oregon believes it can pounce on an open window to enter into an early phase of the program and bring tolling to Oregon as a way to upgrade interstates in the Portland area.
As first reported by The Oregonian, the Oregon Dept. of Transportation aims to apply for one of the initial three spots in the program previously believed filled. As reports surface that both Virginia and North Carolina may have pulled from the program, leaving just Missouri, Oregon wants to slide into one of the perceived open slots, hoping to start a discussion with the Federal Highway Administration about the process.
The goal of the tolling program for Oregon—which would be a first for the transportation agency in the state—puts a focus on improving the interstate corridor in a couple of spots, specifically the highly congested region of Interstate 5 in north Portland near the Rose Quarter and the widening of the Abernethy Bridge, which is near the southern terminus of Interstate 205 with I-5 over the Willamette River in Oregon City.
With so many questions still unanswered about transportation in the new presidential administration—we are still waiting on a new federal highway administrator and key selections in the U.S. Dept. of Transportation—even allowing Oregon into the FAST Act remains uncertain. Oregon, though, wants to be ready to latch on to any opportunity if and when it presents.
That said, with tolling a foreign entity at the Oregon Dept. of Transportation, any addition to tolling would require a new formulation of plans for the agency. But now that Oregon has started moving in the direction of tolling as a way to help pay for hopeful interstate upgrades, the state legislature may consider options to add tolling to its transportation effort, regardless of how the federal program receives Oregon’s overtures.
This new foray into tolling may change the way Oregon expands key interstate projects in the future, with or without the federal government.
Follow Tim Newcomb on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.