in road damage across the state
each year — like these ruts on
N. Rosa Parks Way in Portland.
(Photo © J. Maus)
With a lack of funding for transportation projects such a major issue in this town, it’s not surprising that some activists are taking a serious look at studded tires. Why? According to the Oregon Department of Transportation, studded tires cause an estimated $50-60 million a year in road damage and ODOT spends $11 million a year fixing it.
Citizen activist Jeff Bernards has been trying to raise awareness of this issue for five years and says, despite contacting Governor Kulongoski’s office and PBOT and ODOT officials, he’s gotten “nowhere.” Now, Bernards wants to pursue a ballot initiative to ban studded tires. He explained his interest in this issue in a recent email:
“For those of us that drive you can see how our roads are needlessly chewed and rutted… Oregon’s backlog of road and bridge repair is estimated at $4 billion. There will never be extra money for bike projects when the state is wasting money fixing roads that are only going to be damaged soon after.”
And this isn’t just an activist speaking. ODOT themselves have worked the state legislator for years to curtail the use of studded tires (Oregon legalized studs in 1967) .
In March of 2008, an ODOT spokesperson told the Eugene Register-Guard, “Studded tires can cut the lifetime of a paving project in half.”
But so far, statewide legislation that would tax or ban the use of studded tires has failed to gain much traction.
“I think if the bike community could get this passed, saving local taxpayers millions, the public may be more inclined to support funding the Bike Master Plan.”
— Jeff Bernards
Like many issues in Oregon, the urban/rural divide is likely to blame. The weather west of the Cascade in the Willamette Valley rarely necessitates studded tires, but east of the Cascades it’s a different story. Back in 2001, when Salem Republican Gene Derfler tried to push a bill to ban them, The Oregonian reported that it failed because “lawmakers east of the Cascades say [the ban] would endanger drivers who try to maneuver treacherous mountain passes in winter.”
Also in 2001, lawmakers proposed a yearly fee of $20 to use studded tires, punishable by a $150 if caught without a permit. But efforts to tax studded tires have been met with resistance by legislators east of the Cascades for the same reasons as outright bans.
One possible solution could be bans and/or permit requirements enforced by cities or counties. I’ve asked Multnomah County Chair Ted Wheeler and Portland Mayor Sam Adams if they’d support that idea and I’ll update this story when I hear back from them.
As for the connection to biking? Here’s how Bernards puts it: “I think if the bike community could get this passed saving local taxpayers millions, the public may be more inclined to support funding the Bike Master Plan.” Bernards is currently gathering support for his effort.