Measure requiring voter approval of tolls moves forward

Backers of a proposed ballot measure that would require voter approval of highway tolling have submitted signatures to get a ballot title for the 2020 general election.

Backers of a proposed ballot initiative that would require voter approval for tolls on existing roadways, bridges or freeways say they’ve turned in 1,465 signatures on petitions to qualify for a ballot title for 2020.

The signatures were submitted Thursday to the Secretary of State’s Office.

Initiative Petition 10, amending the state Constitution, would require voter approval for tolling existing roadways but would not require it if the tolls are used to pay for “new net capacity” on the road or bridge on which the toll is assessed. For example, under the initiative, the state could toll new lanes on Interstate 5 without seeking approval from voters, but if the state wants to toll the existing lanes, voter approval would be required.

The language in IP 10 defines “new net capacity” as the “expansion of transportation infrastructure which did not exist prior to Jan. 1, 2018, and which has not been converted from a previous form of transportation infrastructure which has already been built and or operates with public dollars.”

The Oregon Transportation Commission voted unanimously this month to seek federal approval for tolling Interstates 5 and 205 through the Portland area and to study creating a seamless loop of tollways around the city.

Commissioners authorized the Oregon Department of Transportation to analyze the feasibility of tolling I-5, I-205, Interstate 405, Interstate 84, U.S. Route 26, State Highway 217 and sections of U.S. Route 30. The tolled segments of each interstate would form a loop around the city to prevent diversion onto neighborhood streets and to maximize the reduction of congestion, Commissioner Sean O’Hollaren said.

Backers of IP 10 say the process needs more accountability.

“There are too many special interest groups that see tolling as a new revenue-raising mechanism, a giant piggy bank for uses unrelated to building new freeway capacity,” state Rep. Julie Parrish, R-Tualatin/West Linn, said in a prepared statement. “IP 10 as written ensures that roads get built, and revenues collected beyond building new infrastructure remains for future maintenance of the roads.”

Qualifying for a ballot title is the first step in the process of putting the measure before voters.

The turnout for the 2018 gubernatorial election will determine the total number of signatures petition backers must gather for the measure to qualify for the 2020 ballot.

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