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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

ODOT nixes plans for third lane, some tolling on I-205

The George Abernethy Bridge carries I-205 over the Willamette River between Oregon City and West Linn, seen from the air.  (Tribune News Service)
By Jayati Ramakrishnan

The Oregon Department of Transportation is scrapping previously planned tolling on an Interstate 205 bridge, even as it moves ahead with tolling on a second span.

It will also roll back plans to build a third lane on a 7-mile stretch of the road between Tualatin and Oregon City, agency staff members said Thursday.

The agency has already started construction on a portion of I-205, including seismic upgrades to the Abernethy Bridge in Oregon City. The agency still plans to impose tolls on that bridge, but has now suspended plans to toll a second span that crosses the Tualatin River. It sits about 6 miles to the west of the larger Abernethy Bridge and nearer to the freeway’s Interstate 5 junction.

The changes were the latest in a slew of freeway projects ODOT has pared down in the face of a funding shortfall. This summer, the agency said it was short at least $2.6 billion to complete all its planned freeway projects, and presented a modified financial plan to Gov. Tina Kotek on how to move forward .

As its own anticipated revenue sources have dwindled, the transportation agency was relying on several tolling projects to help fund construction on several freeway projects. But in May, Gov. Tina Kotek directed ODOT to delay tolling until 2026 so that the state could further study its impact on local communities.

The agency has already put on hold a major revamp of I-5 through Portland’s Rose Quarter.

That project, which would add lanes to one of the state’s most congested stretches of freeway, saw its price tag balloon from about $500 million to nearly $2 billion. The increase comes in part from rising material and labor costs and in part from incorporating plans to build freeway covers that would reconnect Lower Albina, a historically Black neighborhood that was partially razed for the freeway’s construction in the 1950s.

Agency staff on Thursday told the Oregon Transportation Commission, which oversees statewide transportation policy, they still plan to move forward with the Rose Quarter project and are working on an environmental assessment. The agency is also applying for federal grants that would help it pay for the freeway covers.

Travis Brouwer, ODOT’s assistant director of finance, told commissioners that the policy group would need to pin down specifics on the state’s tolling program by the end of this year so they can present a preliminary plan to the governor.

That including how to manage a low-income tolling program, which is required under the state law that authorized tolling. The state must scale tolling plans based on income, but transportation commissioners can decide whether households farther away from the poverty line will also get a discount.