Tolling can increase use of our freeways

This week the Oregon Transportation Commission’s Portland Region Value Pricing Policy Advisory Committee indicated it likely plans to toll more than just the I-205 from the Abernathy Bridge to the Columbia River. It may toll all of the I-5 and I-205 from the point of their southern merger to the Washington state border. The Commission will be holding public comments on Monday at 5:30 p.m in conference rooms A and B of the ODOT building on 123 N.W. Flanders in downtown Portland. I will be there to remind them that when tolls are used for congestion pricing, the purpose is to increase use of our freeways, not decrease driving.

According to the Highway Capacity Manual, published every ten years by the National Research Council’s Transportation Research Board, throughput per lane on a multilane freeway is maximized at the point where the density of congestion is somewhere between 35-45 vehicles per mile per lane. Tolls should only be imposed to prevent the density from exceeding 45 vehicles and should not be applied when traffic density is less than 35 vehicles.

If misdesigned, the Oregon Transportation Commission would only be pleasing radical environmentalists who want to see less driving by curtailing vehicle density beyond the optimization point. Or with the right approach, the OTC could greatly benefit the region’s economic development by maximizing the use of our freeways. Either way, we’re going to be paying tolls. If you want good traffic policy I suggest you join me on Monday to make the choice clear.

Eric Shierman lives in Salem and is the author of We were winning when I was there