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Oregon To Impose Congestion Tax On Two Freeways
Oregon Department of Transportation opens a one-way conversation on the congestion tax to be imposed in the Portland area.

Congestion tax hearing
Transportation leaders in Oregon are anxious to promote the idea of taxing motorists extra when roads are congested. The state Department of Transportation held the last of a series of policy advisory committee meetings on the topic in Portland on Monday. Exploring this new line of taxation was part of House Bill 2017, a wide-ranging measure that included a 10 cent hike in the gas tax, higher registration fees, a "privilege tax" on automobile dealers and a tax on employers.

"Public review and input is essential to help fully evaluate value pricing and determine the best option for our area," the department's value pricing fact sheet states.

The department's use of the term "proposal" makes it appear that alternatives are on the table for consideration, but lawmakers have already foreclosed that possibility.

"The Oregon Transportation Commission shall establish a traffic congestion relief program," HB 2017, which took effect in October, states. "No later than December 31, 2018, the commission shall seek approval from the Federal Highway Administration, if required by federal law, to implement value pricing as described in this section. After seeking and receiving approval from the Federal Highway Administration, the commission shall implement value pricing."

The pricing program will impose variable electronic tolls on rush hour commuters on Interstate 205 and Interstate 5. Under the plan, the amount of the toll would increase based on the level of congestion on the road. In Virginia, for instance, the value price for a ten-mile trip on Interstate 66 into the nation's capital can reach $45. Not all Oregonians are sold on the idea.

"Some feel value pricing could make congestion worse, either because they assume it will introduce toll booths or because of bottlenecks as people try to exit or enter before a priced lane or roadways begins," a department-funded survey of public opinion released in April noted.

The Oregon Department of Transportation has not yet announced how much it intends to charge commuters or how many millions it expects to collect annually under the program. The department's white paper on the subject only notes that London, England's congestion tax generated a net profit of $222 million in 2008, with only 9 percent of the money being spent on roads and the rest on bus and bicycle infrastructure.

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