Pamplin Media/Jaime Valdez
Gov. Kate Brown toured the state last week to celebrate signing into law a $5.3 billion transportation funding package. Local leaders said, while the package is a step in the right direction, more needs to be done to address failing infrastructure.
Oregon’s 38th governor stopped in Ontario, Bend, Medford, Eugene and Portland to reenact signing the bill and to highlight projects that will benefit those areas.
Her last stop was at Portland Community College’s Southeast campus at 82nd Avenue and Division Street Tuesday.
“The transportation package is truly a roadmap to Oregon’s future,” Brown told a crowd of about 200 at the campus. “Not only will it improve the safety and condition of our roads and bridges, it will support thousands of family-wage jobs and help local businesses get their goods to market more efficiently.”
The package increases fees and taxes to provide funding for a variety of special projects around the state, though none in Grant County, as well as other new programs.
With four increases in the state fuel tax planned, 10 cents total by 2024, the package provides more funding to each city and county each year than previously received.
John Day City Manager Nick Green said the city received $91,000 in state fuel tax funding last year and expects about $20,000 more from the new deal, to increase as the fuel tax increases by 2 cents every other year after the initial 4 cent increase in 2018. While beneficial, he said that amount will not allow the city to accomplish much more than it has been.
“We’re grateful to have it, and it’s better than what we had before, but we still haven’t really addressed the long-term cost differential between what smaller cities receive and what it costs to maintain a $6.5 million asset, and that’s what our streets are currently valued at,” he said.
Replacing Fourth and Fifth streets, which are in such poor condition they can no longer be maintained, would cost the city about $400,000, he said, when it only has $450,000 in its entire street fund.
The transportation package also includes a substantial increase in the special cities allotment — a competitive grant program for cities with populations less than 5,000 — from $1 million to $5 million, which Green said could have a significant impact in rural Oregon.
Grant County will receive a much larger increase, starting at about $400,000, which Grant County Commissioner Boyd Britton said would allow the Road Department to continue operating for years to come. He said the county is one of few with a healthy road reserve fund, about $50 million, but the funding will be very beneficial to many Eastern Oregon counties.
Britton said, with so many bridges, roads and culverts, more funding would be needed for a long-term solution, but he praised the bipartisan effort to pass the package.
“It’s a heck of a lot better,” he said. “It’s a nice, good start.”
Oregon Department of Transportation Region 5 Manager Craig Sipp said the package provides funding beyond lottery proceeds for the ConnectOregon grant program, as well as dedicated funding for Safe Routes to Schools and funding for bike and pedestrian projects.
Through a 1/10th of 1 percent payroll tax deducted by employers — about $0.39 per week for a minimum wage worker — the package also provides new funding for public transit.
Angie Jones, transit manager for the People Mover, said the organization expects to receive more than $100,000 each year starting in 2019. The People Mover has primarily been funded through state and federal grants, she said. With the new funding source, she said more free rides may be offered for people in need, fares may be lowered, operating hours may be extended and the service area may increase.
“I think, overall for Oregon for public transit, it’s an amazing opportunity,” she said. “It’s the first time Oregon has ever had a designated funding source for transit. It’s a big deal, and we’re very excited.”
Brown actually signed the legislation into law Aug. 18, the deadline to enact bills from the 2017 Legislature, which adjourned early last month.
The transportation package was a chief victory for both Democratic and Republican lawmakers during the legislative session.
As the bill appeared ready to combust over discontent among interest groups, Brown intervened to help negotiate a deal that would save the package she’d been promising to constituents for the past two years.
“Passing the transportation package was no easy feat,” Brown said. “We faced some significant challenges this last legislative session but we worked across the aisle and toward a shared vision for a better Oregon.”
The eight-year transportation plan includes staggered hikes in the gas tax, increases to registration and title fees, and new taxes on payroll, new vehicle purchases and bicycles priced more than $200. The package also calls for congestion-priced tolling at some of Portland’s bottlenecks, which could include certain lanes on Interstate 5 and Interstate 205, to pay for congestion-busting projects.
Among major projects specified in the plan are congestion relief on Highway 217, widening northbound I-205 from Powell Boulevard to Interstate 84 and initial investment in adding new lanes to I-5 through Portland’s Rose Quarter.
Paris Achen is a reporter for the EO Media Group/Pamplin Media Group Capital Bureau.