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Regional Interests

Oregon lawmakers at odds over tolling negotiations

Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek is unhappy about how her proposal to fund major freeway projects and establish tolling in the Portland metro area is deteriorating as it makes its way through the legislature.

The Legislature’s joint transportation committee voted on Thursday morning to effectively kill House Bill 3065. That appears to put an end to amendments Kotek, a Democrat, put forth carving out $30 million in state highway funds for the Interstate 5 Rose Quarter expansion project, I-205 widening and I-5 Boone Bridge seismic updates in Wilsonville.

The committee, however, did adopt amendments to the Legislature’s 2021 omnibus transportation bill — House Bill 3055 — which envelops the some of the same dedicated funding for those projects and directs the Oregon Department of Transportation to continue its work in vetting a toll program.

While Kotek expressed appreciation that the committee added language to HB 3055 that adopts funding and emphasis on variable price tolling, she takes issue that the bill doesn’t include direction to the Oregon Department of Transportation to “right size” projects. That would essentially mean that, if the state were able to cut down on Portland-metro-area traffic through congestion pricing, then ODOT would be required to consider whether their projects are being “over built” for future demand.

According to Kotek, the proposal she outlined in HB 3065 was intended to create a “more equitable and emission-reducing” framework for getting these Portland-area projects finally off the ground. She noted that her bill had the support of both the city of Portland and the Metro government agency, due to that framework — which also provided multimodal investments and abatement for the diversion of traffic.

According to staff for Kotek’s office, these pieces of the her proposal were key parts of negotiations between local governments and ODOT.

“I’m disappointed the bill didn’t have the support to move out of committee,” Kotek said in a statement. “While key elements of the bill were incorporated into another bill and ended up improving ODOT’s original tolling language (in HB 3055), one important element did not have enough support and was left behind: requiring projects still in design to take future congestion pricing into account. This is irresponsible.”

Although HB 3055 passed out of the transportation committee and onto the ways and means committee, some committee members were uncomfortable with the amendments adopting provisions of Kotek’s bill.

“My concern is, how much of House Bill 3065 is going into 3055?” said Rep. Ron Noble, R-McMinnville. “I’ve wanted to keep 3055 noncontroversial and tried to pull things out that would hinder the ability for the omnibus bill to go through. Unfortunately, I see the dash 15 [amendments] as actually being controversial.”

Joint transportation committee Co-Chair Sen. Lee Beyer, D-Springfield, said that even with the amendments co-opting pieces of Kotek’s proposal, he feels the bill remains fairly “vanilla.”

“While we tried to accommodate the speaker on many of the things she’s trying to do, the language that comes in and the dash 15, it’s the same stuff that we started out with that ODOT brought to us as we started to construct the bill,” Beyer said. “So there’s nothing that’s changed with regards to that. This is the language that ODOT says, ‘We need these changes in order to carry out [HB] 2017 as the legislature envisioned it.’”

HB 3055 moves on to a hearing of the legislature’s joint ways and means committee. The 52-page bill includes a wide variety of technical fixes and changes to Oregon statute that lawmakers want to see made, such as extending the sunset on the state’s aviation fuel tax which funds rural airports, validation of disabled parking permits and delegating authority to certain counties in designating speed limits on local highways.

This story has been updated from its original version to reflect new details of Kotek’s proposal that were part of negotiations between lawmakers and ODOT on tolling and project implementation.

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting