Toll Roads Back in the News

Yesterday’s Oregonian included an article by James Mayer (unfortunately it does not appear to be online) indicating that ODOT has selected an Australian company as a preferred partner for toll roads, possibly including the Newberg-Dundee bypass and an added lane on the southern end of I-205.

Today the Oregonian’s “question of the week” is also about toll roads. Here are the reader responses.

I won’t go so far as to say this is a “drumbeat”, but does anyone else see a trend developing here?

5 responses to “Toll Roads Back in the News”

  1. I think there is some real desperation in the road building industry. The OTIA funding for roads used up not only the currently available gas tax but committed future gas tax revenue to pay off the bonds being used to fund current projects. Once those projects are done road building will all but end in Oregon without new revenue. One likely source of revenue is tolls.

    The problem is that none of the current proposals pencil out in terms of tolls paying off bonds for the full construction costs. They are still going to have to come up with some additional revenue sources. The toll proposals are most likely to work where the bulk of the project is paid for by the feds and the tolls only have to cover the local match.

    This is the typical campaign in Portland with a willing Oregonian as the cheerleader. I am sure we will see more articles about the benefits of tolls and very little about the reality that tolls on the users will only pay a small part of the cost. The rest will come at the expense of transportation investments that would have no fee attached to their use.

  2. Chris you may be right, but I had thought that the bonds were partially backed by future gas tax revenues that would normally be available for modernization in the future. I could easily be wrong, I did not follow OTIA’s funding that closely.

  3. See here: It notes fee increases, but also mentions increased weight-mile taxes. And it has an interesting fact at the bottom:

    “How does Oregon compare?
    Despite increases in DMV fees, driving a car in Oregon is still a very good deal. Compared to the rest of the nation, Oregon ranks 45th out of 50 states in registration fees, and 34th in title fees.”

    Also see section 8 (search for “fuel”) of where it mentions fuel taxes along with the fee increases.

  4. I think the key quote from that site is this:

    “The Legislature approved issuance of revenue bonds. The financing comes from existing ODOT funds and federal advance construction money, as well as increases in title, registration, and other fees.”

    The bonds did use existing ODOT funds but how much of future revenue used isn’t clear there.

    Regardless, my point was that without toll revenue the road construction industry will have very little work. There is certainly not enough revenue to sustain the industry at its current level juiced up by OTIA bonding of future revenue.

    While commuters and the trucking industry are certainly major political forces that drive road investments, I think it is important to remember that this is a major industry with family-wage union construction jobs. There are a lot of forces that keep us looking for engineering solutions rather than changing behavior.

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