The Other Tollbooth Drops

In Sunday’s Oregonian, Jim Mayer reports that a study of the tolling options for building the Newberg Dundee bypass concludes that the most efficient revenue model would require tolling BOTH the new bypass and the existing route on 99W.

In Sunday’s Oregonian, Jim Mayer reports that a study of the tolling options for building the Newberg Dundee bypass concludes that the most efficient revenue model would require tolling BOTH the new bypass and the existing route on 99W.

The study (PDF, 711K), prepared by the Oregon Transportation Investment Group (the local arm of Australian-based Macquarie Infrastructure Group) raises a number of interesting policy and funding issues:

  • Toll pricing ranging from $0.18 to $0.30 per mile, or $1.98 to $3.30 for a trip through the corridor
  • Potential discounts for local users
  • Creation of an electronic tolling system that would become the standard for use on future toll roads in Oregon
  • Possibly extending the project in a number of directions, including subsuming the proposed I-5/99W connector

The price tag for the bypass is estimated (no serious engineering has been done) at $325 to $425 million, while the I-5 connector would be over half a Billion.

Next step, more detailed study of project costs…


15 responses to “The Other Tollbooth Drops”

  1. With the price tag for the 11 mile bypass pushing a half a billion dollars and gas at $3.00 a gallon and growing, perhaps it is time to revisit rail as an alternative.

    Start with dusting off a “Yamhill Commuter Rail Study” done in 1997 that concluded that it would cost about $112 million (1997 dollars) to place into operation a 36 mile long Milwaukie to McMinville commuter rail line.

    The study states: “The estimated costs include the upgrading of track, replacement of trestles, crossing protection upgrades, vehicles, maintenance facilities, centralized train control stations and park and ride lots.” The train would take 46 minutes from Newberg and 68 minutes from McMinville to Milwaukie.

    Looks like a bargain to me.

  2. This is a great proposal. However, the revenue from the toll road should also be used to provide commuter rail service in this corridor, as an extension to the commuter rail line currently being constructed south from Beaverton TC. Also, branch line service should be considered to bring people from here across the Willamette.

    It just makes sense — if people are going to be tolled to drive, they should also have the option to pay a fare and take a train, and not have to drive.

  3. I was going to say ‘awesome!’ but then I saw the price tag. My gosh, that’s ridiculous – there’s got to be a better way. If it wasn’t solely a commuter corridor, I’d wonder how much traffic the toll would reduce demand by.

    As far as rail, isn’t there already tracks through the corridor? Putting a train on it shouldn’t cost $700 million, one would think.

  4. The cost for commuter rail also depends on track conditions. If it was a former Main Line it might be in good shape, but I have heard stories of branch lines that had in some cases 90lb rail, too light for heavier freight and passenger rolling stock. Still, Commuter Rail combined with toll roads sounds good. With our SOUNDER trains, their are local critics that think the commuter should pay the whole cost to ride it, but perhaps their should be a charge to use the highways too.(The critics were using mortgage amortization to inflate operating costs per rider to scare people off it, and get momentum for their mission to stop any rail transit. The operating costs are around $10 per rider for the Tacoma Line, $20 for Everett, but they are coming down as more trains are added, and more passengers). Commuter Rail works, in fact, SOUNDER is a multi-tasker on it’s South Line. Not everybody who boards in Tacoma goes all the way to Seattle, and not everybody boards in Tacoma. Their are still some industries along the line, Tukwilla is a gateway to Renton, where Boeing Jets and Kenworth Trucks are made, and both participate in various Commute Trip Reduction programs.

    Also, during Mariner Season and Horseracing season at Emerald Downs, special trains are run. So far, the latter just piggybacks on the Tacoma-Seattle Mariner Train, with a shuttle meeting passengers coming off the train from Tacoma, Puyallup, and Sumner. Commuter Rail helps out more than just commuters. One other special train I have heard being run, was for concerts at the Tacoma Dome, it has only been done twice, but what they do on a weeknight concert, was have those riding from Northern destinations take the Southbound commuter runs, and a special train would run North to Seattle. The Specials from Tacoma for the NFC Championship Game ran as three seperate trains, all full.

    If Commuter Rail happens in the corridor you are describing, I hope a few factors are taken into account. SOUNDER is late on several fronts. It started in 2000 instead of 1999 on the core Tacoma-Seattle Segment. Everett and Lakewood were supposed to be in 2001. Everett happened in 2003, but Lakewood hit a snag. BNSF abandoned the connection between the Main-Line and the Lakeview Subdivision, on account of conflicts with TacomaLINK Light Rail. So a new connection has to be built(one was planned, but now it is more expensive) between Tacoma Rail’s Mountain Division(ex-Milwaukee Road) and the now Sound Transit-owned Lakeview Sub. The grade turned out to be steeper than imagined, and they are not sure if the locomotives in use by Sound Transit would be able to handle it. They might need to add a second Locomotive. The opening date for that has slipped to 2008-2010.(Arguing over what to do is an art form up here). Everett was late over aruging over who would pay for track improvements. BNSF finally came up with a deal, BNSF would do the improvements, Sound Transit gets the permits. Turns out what could make this alternative to congestion appealing is what makes the permitting so expensive, It paralells Puget Sound, instead of Interstate 5. Various Federal and State Enviromental Regulations including the Endangered Species Act affect the permits, as more fill will have to go in(Great Northern started a landslide-prevention program in some spots that delayed the inevitable a few years, by moving some stretches away from the shoreline a few feet, on a fill), so they can add one or two more tracks. Stevens Pass is still BNSF’s main East-West artery up here, and the trains have to get through Everett to access it, as the freight route on the Eastside of Lake Washington is in no condition to be the bypass it can be.

  5. Have any of you been on the Mt Hood RR in the Hood River Valley? An old UP shortline that has been running for a dozen years hauling tourists on the weekends and lumber and pears at other times.
    Aren’t there some vinyards out there between Newberg and McMinnville? Not to mention a paper mill (Newberg) and steel mill (McMinn.) Time that Yamhill county stepped up and put together a plan that combines commuter rail with heavy freight and tourist rail. A Trifecta. I’m sure the idea of having to pay a toll to drive 99W through Newberg will be DOA.

  6. I’m sure the idea of having to pay a toll to drive 99W through Newberg will be DOA.

    Lenny – that was my first thought too. But if they tolled 99W closer to McMinnville or just south of Sherwood it might work. That way local trips could be made without paying the toll, but you would toll people commuting to Tigard and Beaverton. You would have to be careful with what alternative routes were available or Gaston might need a bypass next.

  7. There are a couple of problems with using the existing railroad route as a commuter rail line (connecting McMinnville, Newberg, Sherwood, Tualatin, Lake Oswego and ultimately Portland).

    First of all, the route from Newberg to Sherwood is extremely steep and very curvy. Even when frequent commuter trains did run on the route (the Red Electrics, from 1914-1929) – trains rarely pushed 25-30 MPH. I had an opportunity to ride a freight train up and over Rex Hill in 1993, and it is a very tedious route.

    It would cost quite a bit – $117M is a huge underestimate – to rebuild this track to accomodate passenger trains; and even so it would easily take twice as long to get from Newberg to Sherwood. Most plans I’ve seen suggest a tunnel (vastly more expensive).

    The track from Newberg to McMinnville – although used daily by freight trains – is in deplorable shape. 90 pound rail would be considered “good”, the track speed for freight trains is 10 miles an hour. While operator Portland & Western RR has spent many millions on rehabbing its track, this stretch has not seen any upgrades or major maintenance projects. So figure a minimum of $1M per mile, just to completely rebuild the track from the ground up – not including new crossings, new signals, new equipment, sidings/spurs, etc. And, this line has plenty of wood trestles that are maintenance-intensive.

    Finally – the line is owned by Union Pacific Railroad. The terms of the lease agreement with the P&W is that no revenue passenger trains are to be moved. Now, I’ve heard that UP might be backing off of this. However, in order for the Wilsonville-Beaverton Commuter Rail project to have gotten off the ground, UP required that someone purchase outright the stretch of track that UP owned (from Beaverton to Bonita Road in Tigard) – so Washington County had to purchase it. (UP still owns the track west of Lombard Street in Beaverton, and south of Bonita Road; and P&W operates it all regardless of ownership.)

    But to the comment about the toll road revenue going to pay for commuter rail – the point of the toll road is to pay off the cost of constructing the toll road. If you wanted to pay for commuter rail, the tolls would be even higher. Or, you could just institute a fare for the commuter train that equals the cost of operation – keeping in mind, that your average TriMet fare is about 1/5th the actual cost of your trip. So what you’re really asking is that highway users pay for the cost of their road (the toll road), but mass transit users get a subsidy from the highway users out of the kindness of their hearts.

  8. Eric Halstead raises some good issues about putting commuter rail service on the existing P&WRR to McMinnville. The Yamhill County Commuter Rail Study done in 1997 by BRW addresses most of them.

    Rex Hill – The running times stated in the report assumed slow 20 MPH over Rex Hill. (McMinnville-Milwaukie – 64 min; Newberg–Milwaukie – 42 min; Tualatin-Milwaukie – 15 min.) It would take 20 min. to go between Newberg and Sherwood, but I suspect few people would use commuter rail for this short of trip.

    Track condition – Of the $112 million total cost, $70 million (1997 dollars) was for track and bridge improvements needed for passenger service. This included replacing most of the 36 miles of track and trestles, upgrading grade crossings and painting the truss bridges over the Tualatin and Willamette Rivers.

    Ownership – The rail line is owned by UPRR and operated by P&W and W&P, subsidiaries of Genesee & Wyoming RR. Only two freight trains operate over this line today so I suspect they would welcome the new business, especially if others would invest $70 million on their infrastructure.

  9. You people make me sick

    I moved out of oregon because of excessive taxes and now you want to toll roads?! WHats next a sales tax AND income tax AND toll taxes AND ON AND ON.

    God i am glad i dont live in oregon anymore.
    what a shame people, get your sh-it together..

    oregon taxes/tolls makes me sick.. SICK SICK SICK

  10. Jacob –

    When you are through vomiting, please let us know what state you live in so that we may compare relative levels of taxation, government spending, employment, quality of life, etc. Maybe we’ll all want to move there.

    Bob R.

  11. A toll bicycle trail would be cheaper. The whole idea of toll roads should be dumped in the hopper and discarded.

  12. Washington state’s taxes save me THOUSANDS of dollars a year.
    the schools are better
    no tolls on my roads.
    ROADS for that matter are taking care of .
    that’s CLARK county thank you.

    Oregon.. Born and raised, very sad to leave but punks run the government and schools. a very sad story.

  13. Pssst…don’t tell Jacob that the new Tacoma Narrows bridge and the SR 520 bridge in Seattle will be tolled. You might destroy his mythical idea that Washington isn’t tolling roads. Or that Clark County could actually exist as it currently does without Portland.

  14. Newberg should just annex Dundee and then bulldoze down everything on the east side of the highway. It is blighted anyway and a wide highway would be much cheaper than a bypass.


  15. Toacoma Narrows will only be tolled until it is paid for. Which should be about 15-20 years. Well before the end of its lifespan, and then it will be free also. As for maintenance that is a problem for the future peoples of the area.

    Washington’s taxes (like most states) are much less oppressive than Oregon’s. They are a prime example of Oregon’s very slow yet very harsh recession effects and recovery. It’s getting better now but when taxes aren’t a post conern and are immediately removed from a person they have much less use and people have much less opportunity to save, create demand, or prepare for the future.

    I just find the income tax a horrible way to tax people. If it must be done at all it should be done based more on market eb and flow. i.e. a sales tax. Much less harsh, creates more money in times of good growth, and removes less during harsh times.

    I digress. I’m sure I’m off topic by now.

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