Published 06 Dec 2023

The Hidden Costs of Tolling: 7 Ways Clackamas County Will Pay

The Oregon Department of Transportation’s (ODOT) proposed tolling scheme around the Portland metropolitan area would place unreasonable and unforeseen financial burdens on surrounding communities. Although proponents try to sell the tolls as minimal, predictable, and reasonable fees, this is far from the truth.

There is a slew of hidden costs that tolling supporters are intentionally obscuring to limit pushback. Uncovering these concealed expenses gives Clackamas County residents the insights they need to make informed decisions about government actions that impact their financial futures.

1.   It costs low-income communities the most.

This tolling proposal has been accurately described by many officials as a regressive tax. Invariably, low-income communities bear the brunt of the financial burden when it comes to these half-baked tolling schemes. Financially vulnerable individuals and families in Clackamas County will be taxed on the way to and from work, school, the bank, the grocery store, the doctor’s office, and other essential and routine stops. The most financially at risk would not have to decide between paying tolls and feeding their families.

2.   There’s a loophole for the wealthy.

There’s been discussion about electric vehicles (EVs) having reduced tolling costs to promote the use of environmentally friendly alternatives. However, only 1.61% of vehicles on Oregon roads are EVs which makes this “exception” a literal tax break for the 1%. Not only are low-income communities paying a disproportionate amount, but they’re effectively picking up the financial slack for the wealthy.

3.   Toll prices aren’t revealed or fixed.

If ODOT plans on levying tolls against local drivers on their daily commutes, the least it could do is provide upfront costs for budgeting purposes. Apparently, the government can’t even extend that courtesy. The agency has explicitly stated that the exact price of the tolls has yet to be determined and that the information wouldn’t be released until six months before tolling begins. To make matters more complicated, toll prices will vary based on the time of day which makes it even harder for residents to calculate this new expense.

4.   Tolling negatively impacts the environment.

Proponents rely heavily on the environmental impact argument to prop up ODOT’s proposal. In reality, one of the main reasons Governor Tina Kotek enforced a two-year moratorium on the tolling plan was due to ODOT’s failure to provide a robust Environmental Assessment. This tolling system would increase air and noise pollution in local communities, disrupting local habitats and further contributing to climate change.

5.   Local infrastructure suffers damage.

Local infrastructure in Clackamas County isn’t designed to handle highway traffic which tolls encourage to divert into small communities. Local roads that people rely on daily will suffer costly damage as a result of this massive traffic reroute. The problem only worsens as more people learn about the workaround for avoiding the tolls. Of course, Clackamas County residents will be left to handle the costs without any help from the government which imposed the tolls in the first place.

6.   Local companies lose business.

The inevitable spillover of traffic from the highways into surrounding communities will hurt local businesses. Reduced accessibility, increased travel costs, and greater time delays would directly impact the profitability of these businesses. Local foot traffic and the associated business generation will also take a hit. The negative economic ripple effect could extend beyond immediate financial losses, affecting the vibrancy and sustainability of the local commercial landscape.

7.   Tolls are a new form of taxation.

Today, Oregon doesn’t have any highway tolls similar to the kind proposed by ODOT. That’s because this legislation is much more about a new form of taxation than it is tolling. Traditionally, toll revenue goes directly to funding a specific road. However, the I-5 and I-205 highways where ODOT wants to build tolls were paid for years ago. The government has made it clear that the money generated from the new tolling scheme will go towards any project it desires. Beyond greenlighting the installation of two tolls, this legislation lays the groundwork for an entirely new form of taxation in the state of Oregon.

Disapprove of tolling? You’re in good company! The governor’s two-year tolling pause reflects Oregonians’ widespread rejection of ODOT’s proposal. IP-4 is a constitutional amendment that would require a regional vote before new tolls are implemented. People within 15 miles of potential toll sites would have a vote. The legislation would work retroactively which means the tolls on I-5 and I-205 would require a vote too. All you have to do is print, sign, and mail the form’s two pages to support this law. You can access it here.