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Novick asks Santa for $1.3 billion for streets and talks of new fee for infrastructure

Posted by on December 19th, 2013 at 2:50 pm

Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick took his message about the city’s need for
transportation funding inside the Lloyd Center Mall on Thursday.
(Photo by M.Andersen/BikePortland)

Saying that “repetition, repetition, repetition” is the way to get the message to voters that Portland needs more money for street repairs and improvements, Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick held a press event Thursday to formally ask Santa for help.

“We know that people are tapped out, and it’s going to be a big lift to ask people for more money,” Novick said. “So we want to demonstrate in both serious and playful ways that we’re doing everything we can to avoid having to ask people for more money.”

So Novick stopped by Lloyd Center Mall Thursday to mail a letter to Santa Claus with a wishlist of $1.3 billion in street projects, about $1 billion of it for paving and maintenance and the rest for a combination of improvements to multimodal transportation and freight mobility.

“We made a list,” said Novick, who oversees the city’s transportation bureau. “We checked it twice. We explained that we’ve been a very good city — we’ve adopted efficient ways of using our existing transportation dollars.”

We’ve pasted the list from the letter below. It includes 14 separate projects including $30 million to build the “North Portland Greenway Trail” to $200 million to fund, “improvements to gravel streets.”

After the photo op, Novick moved quickly to serious business, acknowledging that the city is about to ask the public for money — though not nearly that much — but saying that first it’s trying every other trick in the book.

“The truth is that all of us use the roads, so I think there’s a pretty strong argument that all of us should pay for it.”
— Commissioner Steve Novick

Novick talked up the possibility that we reported last week seems to be the city’s top prospect: a fee of several dollars per month on every household and on most local businesses.

He also mentioned that a local gas tax or an income tax surcharge “get kicked around” but said a gas tax is “not necessarily the option that would be on the top of our list.”

Novick suggested the city doesn’t have time to wait for the state to reform its own transportation revenue system, and said he expects that whenever it presents the public with a plan for new revenue, it’ll arrive with a list of projects attached.

“We would come up with a list of the specific projects we know we would fund,” Novick said. “You don’t say, 10 years out, ‘Here’s how we spend every dime,’ because needs change over the course of several years. But definitely we would identify some specific projects.”

I asked Novick to respond to concerns that a per-household fee is unfair to people who get around largely with bicycles, because their damage to the streets is negligible.

Novick responded that although someone who rides a bicycle is saving everyone money by lowering local health premiums, “the truth is that all of us use the roads … so I think there’s a pretty strong argument that all of us should pay for it.”

Novick used sidewalks, public transit and street paving, roughly in that order, as his examples of how new money should be spent. He didn’t mention bicycling until asked about it, although he mentioned the East Portland in Motion plan, which includes various upgrades to bicycle infrastructure east of 80th Avenue as well as many crosswalk and sidewalk projects.

Southeast Powell Boulevard at Interstate 205.
(Photo by J.Maus/BikePortland)

“These transportation investments really matter to people,” Novick said of recent sidewalk improvements in East Portland. “We get testimonies from citizens saying things like, ‘It used to take me 45 minutes to walk to the bus because I had to walk through the mud, and now I can get there in 20 minutes.'”

Novick said the death on Tuesday of Vijay Dalton-Gibson while crossing 117th and Glisan, at an intersection where the city had identified the need for a rapid-flashing beacon, showed the depth of Portland’s problem.

“We know there’s a need, but we just don’t have the money,” Novick said. “It’s really depressing.”

He said the city government shares some responsibility for the situation.

“To tell the truth, the city has recently made some investments in things that were important, like rebuilding the Sellwood Bridge, which they were important things to do, but we didn’t really have the money to do them. so we’ve been falling farther behind on things like basic maintenance,” Novick said. “So unless the streets are going to continue to crumble and these important safety needs are going to go unaddressed, we’re going to need to find some other ways to find it.

“We realize it’ll take a lot of explaining and a lot of back and forth,” he added.

Once the city completes this back-and-forth, will it emerge with a list of ways to reduce its future street costs by making biking appeal to more people? That remains to be seen.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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pdx2wheeler
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pdx2wheeler

Santa… Lets start with some low hanging fruit(cake)… #1 – Ban studded tires in Oregon… #2… Provide an credit/incentive for cyclists since each cyclist equates to one less 2,000+lb vehicle rippin’ up the roads and clogging our arterials.

RH
Guest
RH

“a fee of several dollars per month on every household and on most local businesses.”
1) Doesn’t a portion my income and property taxes already go towards infrastructure.
2) What % of this ‘household tax” would go to administer/enforce it?

“they were important things to do, but we didn’t really have the money to do them”
1) [sigh], so the city spent money they didn’t have and now those that are fiscally responsible are being asked to bail out the city.

Bjorn
Guest
Bjorn

The city should build sidewalks immediately and there is a very easy way to do it. The city should build sidewalks on every street that lacks them starting immediately and assess adjacent property owners for the cost. People should be given the option to either pay for the repair immediately, pay over time with interest, or have a lien placed on their property where the city will be repaid with interest when they sell. Sidewalks increase the value of a property so owners will likely recoup most if not all of the cost and we will have sidewalks now.

Ventura
Guest
Ventura

A gas tax increase would be much closer to a usage-based fee, as well as being less regressive.

Instead, he’s promoting business as usual – everyone subsidizes personal automobile use.

Terry D
Guest
Terry D

I know that in my neighborhood if even a quarter of what we generated at $5 per household was funnelled back into the neighborhood in the form of crossing improvements we would have a great system within two years. Admittedly, my neighborhood is small but the point remains that if the new money is targeted correctly we could see great gains rapidly.

AndyC of Linnton
Guest
AndyC of Linnton

Ugh…for some reason I find this article extraordinarily depressing.

J_R
Guest
J_R

I’ve said it before, but I’ll keep saying it. The gas tax at both the state and federal level has not kept up with inflation. The federal gas tax has been stuck at 18.4 cents per gallon since 1993. Oregon’s gas tax was 24 cents per gallon in 1993 and was finally raised to 30 cents per gallon in 2011. But, since 1993 the construction cost index tracked by the Corps of Engineers has increased by 70 percent. I will support a per household transportation fee once the federal gas tax is raised to 31.3 cents per gallon and the Oregon tax is raised to 40.8 cents per gallon.

And don’t forget, driver’s license and vehicle license fees make up a major portion of the ODOT budget. So, we’re all paying regardless of whether we drive our electric cars or rider our bikes on some days.

Robert L.
Guest
Robert L.

“$2 million a year to clean our street signs, making them more readable and improving safety”

I’ll do it for $1 million and I’ll do it by bike!

Opus the Poet
Guest

Heck with subsidizing cars, we’re really subsidizing freight. One half-full semi (40K pounds GVW) does the same damage as 10,000,000 fat guys on bicycles or moderately loaded cargo bicycles (350 pounds GVW for either case). A fully loaded (80K pound GVW) semi does 160,000,000 fat guys on bicycles damage to a street or road. Now if you parse that as one 50 pound bike, one 180 pound rider and 120 gross pounds of cargo that still comes to a lot more cargo moved by bike for the same amount of damage to the street. Of course that also assumes the cargo can be parceled out in 120 pound segments, while this is frequently the case it isn’t always or even most of the time. But think about it, you could move the entire truck and cargo by bike and do less damage to the streets/roads.

Randy
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Randy

“A fee of several thousand per household” Not an equitable solution, especially for those who use their feet or bicycle to move around town. Better to tax heavy vehicles such as buses, trucks, and large vehicles that idle for long periods of time.

jim
Guest
jim

Why should we subsidize bus service? Run it like a business that needs to break even.

Babygorilla
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Babygorilla

I guess every little trick in the book includes lying on grant applications for state funds, likely to the detriment of other local agencies.

Ted Buehler
Guest

Um, I think that what we really need is a reallocation of existing resources.

More $ would be nice, but since no government anywhere seems to be able to raise taxes in an significant quantity, its a matter of resetting priorities.

The “everyone should play along nice and not get into ‘bikes vs. cars'” argument falls flat on its face here. Bikes are grossly underfunded relative to the social benefits and basic cost of providing for transportation of different modes. Hands down. Gotta stand up and state some facts (which Novick probably does some of the time), the Santa deal just tries to convince us that the future we deserve and can obtain is unobtainable.

Ted Buehler
Guest

Here’s me list for Santa —

* Right lanes on the Broadway Bridge converted to bike lanes
* Change in bikeway design policy so all routes with more than 2000 bicyclist trips per day require a 14′ bike lane — 2 side by side 5′ lanes, with 2 2′ buffers on each side.
* Right lane on SW Broadway converted to a bike lane, Ankeny to Market
* “Jersey strip” concrete barriers across Clinton, Salmon, Tillamook and Michigan every 5 blocks in sections where cars are using the street as a cut-through.
* Compacted gravel path between the RR tracks and I-5, from the intersection of Water and Stark north to the East Bank Esplanade just south of the Steel Bridge
* Change in zoning code to require dedicated bike parking in each downtown ramp, 1 in 20 spaces, located as close as possible to the building entrance.
* Change in zoning code requiring street level climate controlled indoor parking in new apartment buildings.
* Convert the right lane on SW 12th to a double-width bike lane, PSU to Stark.
* Zero tolerance for speeding. New policy. Publish it in the Oregonian, TV newscasts, and rent a few billboards. Start ticketing people after a 2 week grace period.
* Ban studded tires (Novick can put this on his wish list for the Salem Santa, signed by all 5 members of City Council).
* Can the CRC.
* Harp on ODOT to put Barbur on a Road Diet
* left lane converted to an HOV lane on I-5 south from Delta Park to Skidmore
* left lane converted to an HOV lane on I-84, I-5 to Fairview
* left lane converted to an HOV lane on I-5, downtown Portland to Tualatin
* Lower the speed limit on I-5 to 40 mph, from Terwilliger Curves to the Columbia River. Same with I-405 and US-26 through the West Hills.

None of this stuff would take more than a couple buckets of paint and signs, and it would dramatically improve the bicycling, walking and driving experience in Portland.

What Portland needs isn’t wish lists for Santa featuring expansion of pavement in Portland lots of zeros on the price tags, but leaders that will stand up and take the difficult measures to reallocate existing resources to dramatically improve the alternative transportation system. $ cost very low. Political cost, not so low, but all the drivers will get used to it and things will flow better eventually. & safety improvements would save boatloads of $.

Ted Buehler

Mike Quigley
Guest
Mike Quigley

A hefty tax on vehicle usage. The more your drive, the more you pay.

Cycledad
Guest
Cycledad

Let’s a non-union labor and I am sure this number could be halfed. Also why keep a not just trim the city’s budget to make this work (if it is such a huge priority)?

Adam H.
Guest
Adam H.

I would happily pay more taxes if it meant that money would go toward installing protected cycle tracks.

Evan Manvel
Guest
Evan Manvel

“we just don’t have the money” is something high-priced highway lobbyists don’t care about. They are trying to bypass new transportation revenue and use brute political force to push through the polluting, costly, risky CRC – without additional revenue to cover its cost in the thousands of millions of dollars.

With interest, cost overruns, and revenue shortfalls, the CRC will cost Oregonians more than the $1.3 billion the City is asking for from Santa.

It’s time to stop asking (spoiler alert!) fictional characters like Santa for money and start asking the Governor and state legislators for the money the highway lobby aims to use for their two miles of massive highway expansion.

Right now the highway lobby’s plan is to get all Oregonians to subsidize their multi-billion-dollar pork that accelerates global warming, and then charge ourselves hundreds of millions of dollars more to meet our basic safety and maintenance needs so families can walk to the bus.

Alan 1.0
Guest
Alan 1.0

With NoPo Greenway on the list twice, could Sullivan’s Gulch Trail be on there once?

Mossby Pomegranate
Guest
Mossby Pomegranate

Where’s Randy Leonard when we need him. His creative accounting would have found the money in our water bureau.

Are we going to be allowed to vote on this ridiculous new tax? Aren’t my ever increasing property taxes ever enough?

Like the “Art” tax, I see this money going right into a deep dark hole.

Jules Jacobson
Guest
Jules Jacobson

Panda
In addition to raising gas taxes, significantly tax surface parking lots and on street parking, increase traffic patrol and triple all fines for speeding, DUI and distracted driving, enable the use of traffic cameras to issue fines for speeding, running stop lights, etc, and charge a $10,000 fee to use studded tires ( I have been seeing cabs with studs for god s sake)
Driving is seen as a fun, easy, god- given right, and it is not taken seriously. This leads to unsafe and excessive driving. Driving and parking should cost something, driving unsafely should not be tolerated, and alternatives encouraged.
We can look to Vancouver bc for a similar (more than Europe) city that has high gas taxes and actively works at making it undesirable to park or drive
Recommended 2

Bravo, Panda. After 45 years of cycling I have figured out two things–1.A motor vehicle operator is, temporarily anyway, a lower species than a human being, and 2.The best way to control this animal’s behavior is by fear of the consequences of that behavior. The fine for a moving violation should be, at first offense, a significant financial hardship perhaps a percentage of the person’s net worth–the murderous waitress from LkOS who ran over the guy on Barbur, for instance, should be working off a $10,000 fine if she has to sell her body to do it. A wealthy West Hills type, he/she should be paying off $1million for a DUI.