Legislative group recommends new road, bridge spending

A subgroup of the legislative committee hammering out a transportation package has called for up to $312 million in new spending to upgrade roads and bridges. That would require a revenue hike equal to an 11-cent increase in the gas tax, though the money could come from a variety of sources.

SALEM — A subgroup of the legislative committee crafting a statewide transportation package has recommended an increase of $255.6 million to $312.4 million in annual spending to upgrade roads and bridges.

That would require raising revenues equivalent to a 9- to 11-cent increase in the state’s 30-cent gas tax. The money would likely come from a combination of sources, which could include a hike in the gas tax, registration fees, tolling or other options.

“Even the equivalent of 11 cents is yet to be determined,” said Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose. “This is all highly fluid.”

The state now spends about $1.3 billion a year on transportation maintenance and upgrades. The Oregon Transportation Commission has recommended spending an additional $574 million a year to upgrade roads and bridges to ease congestion, particularly in the Portland metro area.

But the legislative subgroup could not reach a consensus on an amount, said Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, who led the group.

“We didn’t reach consensus on much of anything, but I think we all agreed we need to do something,” Bentz said.

The recommendation comes from the first of five subgroups from the legislative Committee on Transportation Preservation and Modernization, each working on different aspects of the package. The other groups are coming up with suggestions for easing congestion, improving pedestrian and cycling commutes, coming up with accountability measures and addressing air and rail needs.

The four other groups will report their recommendations tentatively by early April.

“We have never done a process like this where we have negotiated a giant package functionally in public, and pieces are going to come and go,” Johnson said. “We’ve got a long, long way to go.”

After hearing the five reports, the full committee of 14 members will have to reconcile the recommendations into a transportation package, expected to send hundreds of millions of dollars for projects to the state Department of Transportation.

“That just exacerbates the conundrum that all of us are faced with of putting together a package,” Johnson said.

About 33 percent of the road pavement in Oregon is in fair or worse condition and will need replacement soon, according to the state.

More than 700 bridges in the state need to be seismically retrofitted — at a cost of $5 billion in the next 20 years — to avoid collapse in the event of a major earthquake, the department estimates. Currently, the agency upgrades only three bridges a year, said Paul Mather, ODOT’s Highway Division administrator.

The biggest driver for upgrading the bridges is “the long-term economic effects we are going to have on our economy,” Mather said.

“We have seen disasters like Katrina and others, and this is going to be on a bigger scale than that,” Mather said of a major earthquake. “You’re going to have industry … to leave state … if we don’t have ways for their workers to get to work, their goods and services to get out to the marketplace.”

The subcommittee focused on economic lifelines in the Portland metro area and looked for ways to continue mobility throughout the state through north, south and east connections.

“There are tough choices to make, and we zeroed in on where the biggest impact we were going to have on the economy with the investment,” Mather said.

The Capital Bureau is a collaboration between EO Media Group and Pamplin Media Group.



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