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City considers whether to spend more of street fee on repaving, less on safety

Posted by on July 15th, 2014 at 10:48 am

Some want more to go to “maintenance.”
(city graphic)

With Portland’s mayor and transportation commissioner sticking adamantly to their guns on the notion that the city needs more money for its street system, other political chess pieces are moving.

Here’s one of the biggest: should less of the money go toward street safety and more toward street maintenance?

The initial plan from city leaders, which the city council sent back for retooling in June, was for 44 percent of the $50 million a year fee to go toward “safety projects” such as 4 miles a year of new neighborhood greenways, 70 city blocks a year of new sidewalks, 20 safer street crossings per year and a mile or two of new protected bike lanes each year.

Another 53 percent would go to repaving 30 to 50 miles of city streets each year, plus other maintenance like replacing 8,000 faded city street name signs each year.

The remaining 3 percent would go toward better public transit (a frequent-service bus line along 122nd Avenue is often mentioned), paving dirt and gravel streets and strengthening bridges against earthquakes.

But that came out to only about $20 million per year to maintain road pavement, about one-quarter of what the city’s pavement forecast says is needed to keep the streets from continuing to fall apart. With that in mind (among other things, presumably) some business advocates have been urging the city to allocate less to what the city refers to as “safety” and more to what it refers to as “maintenance.”


Here are a couple of the city’s own tweets from a meeting Monday with the new work group that’s representing business owners as the city tweaks its proposal:

In other street fee news, Willamette Week, the Mercury and The Oregonian have all published useful explainers in the last few weeks that look at the city’s transportation budget from various angles. I’ll summarize the main idea of each piece:

Finally, I’ll add an updated version of a chart we published in May, which compares the $12-a-month street fee to some other relevant payments to government:

The city has also convened a “non-profit and low-income stakeholder” work group to fine-tune the street fee concept in advance of a possible City Council vote in November. Its meetings are one day after the business work group’s, starting July 29.

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  • Cora Potter July 15, 2014 at 10:56 am

    First, they need to equitably allocate the street fee funds by geography. Then, based on the geographic area they should prioritize maintenance vs. safety projects.

    This will ensure that East Portland gets it’s fair share and doesn’t fall vicitm to having the fees collected in East Portland siphoned off to pay for paving in inner Portland.

    If the fees are first prioritized by pavement maintenance – this ensures an inequitable distribution because, in general, East Portland has better vehicle lane pavement quality. But, those well paved roads lack adequate sidewalk infrastructure, crossings and other active transportation improvements. Even the previously suggested safety/pavement allocations would only have resulted in an equitable distribution if nearly all of the safety money was spent in East Portland. If we skew toward pavement even further, we’re just compounding the inequity.

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    • davemess July 15, 2014 at 12:33 pm

      Our neighborhood is going to float an idea to Novick proposing that neighborhoods with less infrastructure (unpaved streets, lack of sidewalks, etc.) would actually pay less for the street fee (at least until their infrastructure was improved to a point where they felt they were getting their money’s worth, at which point they could be bumped up to the regular fee). Many are worried about what you are describing. We’ve been paying the same taxes for years and getting a lot less back in our areas because we don’t have “standard” infrastructure. The proposed street fee would likely just widen this gap.

      I know that as a city we pay for roads that we don’t necessarily travel for the common good of the city, but this city does not have a great record with proportionately distributing funds (esp. considering this is supposed to be a flat tax).

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      • paikiala July 15, 2014 at 3:26 pm

        Except that residents (the big group) of portland don’t pay to build local service roads, the local residents – those that live on the street – pay for their local roads. And those local roads don’t require the bulk of the maintenance that Neighborhood Collectors and above require. In fact, many of the local service roads aren’t even on the maintenance list because they last so long. It’s the local roads that are most lacking amenities, not the higher classified roads most of the street fee would go to maintain.

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        • davemess July 16, 2014 at 8:20 am

          See reply below

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    • gutterbunnybikes July 15, 2014 at 7:13 pm

      I agree that there needs to be a sliding scale, my street is flat (gravel base concrete on top). Why should I pay as much as people in the West hills (or other hilly areas) where the roads often need elaborate shoring, culverts, and added structural support to the road structure?

      Who’s road needs the the most maintenance more often?

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  • kiel johnson
    kiel johnson July 15, 2014 at 11:17 am

    It is time for active transportation activists to stop bickering about the details and get engaged in this before it becomes a fee for just repaving our roads for cars.

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    • 9watts July 15, 2014 at 12:09 pm

      “before it becomes a fee for just repaving our roads for cars.”
      It is, and always was, Kiel. You didn’t really for a moment think it was anything else, did you?
      That is, in the minds of our elected officials. Of course, there is as yet no Street Fee, and I, for one, hope we never get one that smells anything like the variations we’ve so far seen.

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    • q`Tzal July 15, 2014 at 12:28 pm

      I might be more inclined to agree fully if:
      () the 1st safety “improvement” decision wasn’t to even CONSIDER rumble strips in a bikeway
      () bike lanes were required to be swept clean after they dump gravel or an accident leaves debris
      () repaving and resurfacing projects didn’t often leave the bike lane old, worn and rough while considering the auto lane completion as the only thing that matters.
      () bike lanes weren’t the defacto dumping ground for construction zone paraphernalia without any consideration of bicycle rider safety nor warning to drivers that bicycles are going to be mixing in suddenly and unpredictably.

      Too often it is blatantly obvious that ZERO THOUGH OR PLANNING is present in the maintenance of PUBLIC roads. Give me some indication that our safety will not be the first sacrificed for expediency.

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    • spare_wheel July 15, 2014 at 4:17 pm

      engagement requires someone willing to listen. i see no signs of interest in active transport at this city council.

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    • Mike July 15, 2014 at 7:13 pm

      Bikes use the roads too. I don’t know about you but I would rather ride on nicely paved roads than the crap we have now. And if it is a choice between half assed bike lanes and smooth roads, I am going to choose the latter every time.

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      • 9watts July 15, 2014 at 7:22 pm

        the maintenance challenges we’re talking about: regular repaving, repainting, the number of lane miles, road width & thickness, storm drainage, only a miniscule fraction of that would be required to accommodate bicycle traffic. Do you realize how much of the surface of our cities we’ve given over to asphalt, to the automobile? That is why this is all so damned expensive: there’s too much of it, and it is built to high standards.
        The fact that derivatively we get a smoother ride when a street is repaved is nice, but in no way reflects what is being discussed here. When we’re done with the automobile, you’ll see how cheaply we can maintain our transport infrastructure, how much less traffic, wear, congestion, & carnage we’ll experience.

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        • mike July 16, 2014 at 7:17 pm

          Shouldn’t we take care of the roads that are already there? I understand the goal being to decrease the amount of cars but do you mean we should let the current roads crumble into a pot holed pile o’ crap? I guess I am confused on how to get from point A to point B(point B being more bikes and less cars) in a responsible manner.

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          • 9watts July 16, 2014 at 7:35 pm

            “Shouldn’t we take care of the roads that are already there? ”

            Yes, I think we should. In proportion to the damage we do. Not difficult. Gas tax solves this brilliantly. Just needs to be kicked up a few notches and indexed to 2x inflation, or 8x, what the heck!

            I’m not saying we should pretend none of this concerns us because we don’t own and drive cars. I’m just saying that there are sensible ways to fairly raise funds to pay for maintenance, and MaxD did a superb job of detailing them (see link below in case you missed it). Did you read his list? What did you think?

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    • gutterbunnybikes July 15, 2014 at 7:15 pm

      Bike lanes aren’t designed for the riders safety. They’re designed to keep bikes from slowing down traffic.

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  • dan July 15, 2014 at 11:23 am

    “City considers whether to spend more of street fee on repaving, less on safety”

    Good, that’s a productive use of time for our highly paid city officials. Similarly, I’m trying to figure out how much of my lottery winnings to spend on a yacht vs. international real estate. ‘Cause you know, I’m going to hit that thing any day now!

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  • MaxD July 15, 2014 at 12:01 pm

    If the purpose of the Street Fee is to maintain roads and increase safety, then the causes of damage and threats to safety must be identified, and strategies for mitigating these must be considered. In my opinion, there are many synergistic ways to approach this problem that reduce damage and minimize threats while raising money.
    Causes of road damage
    1. Heavy vehicles
    2. Studded tires
    3. Slow-moving turns
    4. Rain

    Threats to safety
    1. Speeding
    2. Distracted drivers
    3. Drunk drivers
    4. Road rage
    5. Unsafe intersections or lack of traffic control/lighting
    6. Unsafe lane allocations/traffic control; not enough space or instruction for all users

    Potential sources of funding for maintenance
    1. Local Gas Tax tied to inflation; simple to administer.
    2. Parking: increase meter fees, expand collection times, expand metered areas, raise fees for permits, and expand permit areas.
    3. Tax surface parking lots to raise fees or encourage redevelopment.
    4. Add fees to vehicle registration based on vehicle weight; more weight = higher fee.
    5. Massive surcharge to use studded tires.
    6. Work with legislators to get speed/red light cameras, and spread throughout City.
    7. Work with judges to stop reducing fines for traffic violations, and increase fines (double or triple)

    Ways to increase safety that does not cost or raise money
    1. Get rid of “beg buttons throughout the City; allow pedestrians to cross at every signal and every phase.
    2. Eliminate traffic movements on red signals to encourage drivers to wait before the stop bars and protect pedestrians
    3. Eliminate slip lanes and on- and off-ramps at all local bridges forcing traffic to use the street grid to navigate.
    4. Remove lanes from the bridges and convert to bike lanes. Bridges are used as speedways now, and bikes and pedestrians are forced to share sidewalks. Slow traffic on bridges and create safe, comfortable ways to cross the rivers.
    5. Resist highway expansion within City limits that will lead to increased air pollution in urban neighborhoods.
    6. Provide crosswalks at the foot of each bridge
    7. Remove on-street parking to close the many gaps in the City’s bikeways.
    8. Start a City-wide, monthly street-sweeping program. Tow and fine all cars in the way to help offset any costs. This would remove disabled vehicles, create streets better suited to pedestrians and bikes, and protect our rivers from harmful pollutants.

    Reasons not to employ the Street Fee
    1. Regressive tax: adds a disproportionate burden on poorer citizens and low-car households.
    2. Potential net loss for PBOT’s budget: With a funding stream for PBOT, the City’s general fund could allocate less to PBOT, The Street Fee becomes a larger percentage of the budget, other projects get prioritized, safety needs remain unmet, and we are back to square one.
    3. The Street Fee encourages sprawl by not actually being a user fee (suburban subsidy!)
    4. Unhelpfully double-taxes schools, parks, TriMET, other bureaus; this is counter-productive and a waste of administrative resources and public money.
    5. Does not charge daily commuters from suburbs or freight-haulers. These are necessary for Portland, put they place a huge burden on our infrastructure and they should pay instead of getting subsidized.

    Motorized vehicles cause the damage and pose the threats to safety. The City has everything it needs to improve safety today by slowing traffic and increasing enforcement. New revenue streams for transportation must target street users and reward alternative transportation, fewer trips and smaller vehicles. With population forecasts of hundreds of thousands of new Citizens in the next 20 years, it is incumbent on the City now to create policy that supports alternative transportation and discourages Single-Occupant Vehicle trips within Portland. The Street Fee is a step back in Portland’s trajectory of good Urban Planning because it supports and subsidizes personal automobile use. The consideration to decrease the spending on safety is moving this conversation even farther in the wrong direction.

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    • 9watts July 15, 2014 at 1:34 pm

      stop talking so much sense. You’re making PBOT & Novick & Hales look ridiculous.

      But, really, very nice summary there!

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      • Mossby Pomegranate July 15, 2014 at 5:22 pm

        Making Hales and friends look ridiculous is like taking candy from a baby.

        Doesn’t PBOT have like a $100 million budget or something like that as it is?

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    • oliver July 15, 2014 at 1:47 pm

      Get rid of “beg buttons throughout the City; allow pedestrians to cross at every signal and every phase.


      It’s maddening to be cruising along and get stopped at a light and wait there, for no one. To now add waiting for a pedestrian crossing cycle to an out of sequence traffic signal would be too much.

      This will not increase pedestrian safety, it will only increase pedestrian convenience. And even more, it only increases pedestrian convenience in those places where there are actually pedestrians.

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      • Reza July 15, 2014 at 2:16 pm

        Shame on us for wanting to improve the experience for pedestrians; we simply must protect motorist convenience at all costs! See what I did there?

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      • Chris I July 15, 2014 at 2:20 pm

        I would prefer a de-criminalization of “jaywalking”, city-wide. You don’t need to use the beg button in most cases, but if there is heavy traffic, it is there for you to use. Stopping car (and bike) traffic when no one is crossing at a signal is silly, so the beg buttons should stay.

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        • paikiala July 15, 2014 at 3:35 pm

          this one?:
          City Code 16.70.210 Must Use Crosswalks.
          No pedestrian may cross a street other than within a crosswalk if within 150 feet of a crosswalk.

          Agreed. Since short blocks are the norm, mid-block crossing in portland is only legal on those rare blocks, over 300 feet long. This is a City of Portland thing. I don’t believe state law has the same restrictions.

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        • gutterbunnybikes July 15, 2014 at 7:56 pm

          No it’s not.

          It’s a traffic control device. By making drives stop or slow for more lights it reduces the overall speed by auto traffic, making them much safer for all users—-including cars.

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      • DNP July 15, 2014 at 2:58 pm

        I think MaxD was referring to typical signaled intersections that moderate all traffic modes. As in the walk signal would always illuminate alongside a parallel green traffic light. I think it’s pretty silly that it may stay in the “do not walk” configuration while the same-direction street has a green. You should be allowed to proceed when same-direction has a green.

        It makes sense to keep the beg buttons at highly trafficked signaled crosswalks that are only triggered by demand, but otherwise remain unchanged (see link below),+Portland,+OR+97212/@45.5530211,-122.6307004,19z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m2!3m1!1s0x5495a6d783a6dfbd:0xf338f37074cc37e4

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        • davemess July 15, 2014 at 3:25 pm

          That’s how I interpreted it.

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  • Bjorn July 15, 2014 at 12:06 pm

    they are about to approve spending 2 million dollars moving the streetcar over half a block. Part fo the problem here is one of priorities.

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    • Reza July 15, 2014 at 12:27 pm

      Pro-car “libertarian” Eric Fruits spreading false information?! The sun must have risen this morning.

      That image is outdated, from the now-dead Sustainability Center project that was championed by Sam Adams. Here’s the ACTUAL project that is being built:

      The current single-track section along Montgomery Street and 4th Ave near PSU cannot handle the planned 7-minute combined NS and CL line headways when Tilikum Bridge opens and the streetcar loop is closed. Therefore, the line needs to be double tracked, with a parallel track built along the left hand lane of 4th Ave and on Montgomery Street (which will have its direction reversed from EB to WB). The realignment through the Jasmine Block would have been ideal but PDC wants to keep the parcel intact for future development, so we’re stuck with this inelegant solution.

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    • maccoinnich July 15, 2014 at 12:28 pm

      The website you linked to doesn’t show the correct layout for what’s being done. The statement “no new track” is totally wrong.

      What they’re doing is doubling the track around that block, allowing them to double the streetcar frequency between PSU and the Tillikum crossing. Without this they can’t complete the “close the loop” project and send streetcars over the new bridge. The streetcar system currently has 18,000 riders on weekdays. I would expect a big jump in numbers once the central loop is completed. I would say this is money well spent.

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      • Chris I July 15, 2014 at 2:22 pm

        Bingo. This is actually a very smart project, considering what it is going to do for the Streetcar, operationally. Now, expanding the system further, say to Hollywood, or Hawthorne, is questionable, and should probably be sent to the voters as a bond measure.

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        • Terry D July 15, 2014 at 3:03 pm

          If we would have had a stable transportation funding stream when the single track was build, it could have been done correctly the first time for half the cost. As usual through, Portland can only pay for 90% of a project….then wecome back later on and spend double to “fix it.”

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          • paikiala July 15, 2014 at 3:37 pm

            If you have a crystal ball that tells you the future, please share. PBOT designs and builds projects based on best available information. Doubling the tracks before we know a bridge is feasible looks kind of silly if the bridge doesn’t pan out.

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            • spare_wheel July 15, 2014 at 7:44 pm

              there is no need for a crystal ball to see that your current boss is interested in smoother roads for motorvehicles (and not much else).

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  • Peter W July 15, 2014 at 12:09 pm

    Any idea how this level of funding and per-household cost compares to Washington County’s MSTIP?

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  • Tim July 15, 2014 at 12:11 pm

    As the guy on the 1-inch wheels, pavement quality is a safety issue. Why is it safety vs. maintenance, why not safety maintenance?

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  • 9watts July 15, 2014 at 12:17 pm

    One problem with at least some of those comparisons above is that they represent fees that I can do something about. My water/sewer bill sure isn’t $753/yr. There are plenty of fixed charges on there, but the water and sewer part I can do plenty to shrink. Same with the gas tax, and a few others up there. Quite unlike the Street Fee which is flat/fixed/entirely unmoored from any wear I might or might not visit upon our transportation infrastructure.

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    • Adam H. July 15, 2014 at 12:34 pm

      Yeah, but street fee is effectively a tax. There’s not a ton you can do to reduce your taxes except make less money.

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      • davemess July 15, 2014 at 12:39 pm

        Or give to charity, or have a kid, or buy a cheaper house, or buy solar panels, or move, or drive less for less gas tax, or buy less for states with a sales tax.

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      • 9watts July 15, 2014 at 12:50 pm

        Ha. I’ve been making less money all my life.

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  • ALynch July 15, 2014 at 12:28 pm

    Granted this may be a bit of a leap but is it reasonable to consider that when a street is repaved it could be repainted to include bike lanes?

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    • Terry D July 15, 2014 at 3:08 pm

      Yes….and PBOT is getting better about coordinating this. LOOk at SE Stark and hopefully this fall NE Halsey 67th or so to 74th. On many of the paving projects to add proper / safe bike lanes requires parking removeal.

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  • Oregon Mamacita July 15, 2014 at 1:45 pm

    We would have more money for safety if we asked high income dwellers in multi-family buildings to contribute their fair share. Condos in the Pearl can afford 144 a year, too.

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  • Spencer July 15, 2014 at 3:28 pm

    The only reason I’m not completely enraged by the street fee is the fact that it will improve pedestrian and bicycle safety. Now that its getting changed to PAVE PAVE PAVE our decrepit unsafe roadways, I’m 100% against it.

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    • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
      Michael Andersen (News Editor) July 15, 2014 at 3:55 pm

      To be clear: this shift hasn’t happened. It’s only being discussed.

      The reason this change is on the table is that the city has been hearing loud and clear from some stakeholders that maintenance is more important. If you disagree, you can let the city know: the relevant staff email is

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    • spare_wheel July 15, 2014 at 5:30 pm

      sadly, i think it was always pave, pave, pave. i now regret supporting it even mildly before i knew just how regressive it would become. i think those who support active transport should fight this auto-centric fee. it’s portland’s CRC.

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      • 9watts July 15, 2014 at 5:31 pm

        Anyone else having trouble posting comments today?

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        • spare_wheel July 15, 2014 at 6:06 pm

          yeah…appears fixed here.

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          • 9watts July 15, 2014 at 6:08 pm

            It is the longer ones that aren’t getting through. Oh well. Maybe it’s just too hot.

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  • paikiala July 15, 2014 at 3:41 pm

    – safety and maintenance are small, easy to understand words that everyone likes. ‘bike lanes’ and ‘road repaving’ are more divisive and tougher to get people behind.

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    • spare_wheel July 16, 2014 at 1:01 pm

      i have not seen any reluctance by novick and hales to talk about paving. none at all.

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  • Dwaine Dibbly July 15, 2014 at 5:40 pm

    It’s all a complicated ploy to get the infrastructure for a sales tax implemented, just like the Arts tax is an attempt at implementing a City income tax.

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  • davemess July 15, 2014 at 6:04 pm

    Except that residents (the big group) of portland don’t pay to build local service roads, the local residents – those that live on the street – pay for their local roads.

    This is actually disputed (despite the city continually spouting it as fact).
    See the WW article:
    In a 2000 report to City Council about funding for street improvements, an expert panel delved into the history of Portland infrastructure. They called the notion that property owners have always borne the cost of paving streets a “long-standing myth.”

    As recently as 2000, the study found, the city was paying most or all of the costs to pave many streets, especially in poorer neighborhoods.

    “The implication of this myth was that property owners paid almost entirely for their street, a proposition that is nowhere near the truth,” the report says. “It is much more accurate, and also much more relevant to the problems we face today, to state that property owners have almost always helped pay for at least a portion of the costs for improving their streets.”

    Not to mention lack of maintenance on unimproved roads is a very questionable practice by the city.

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  • bjcefola July 15, 2014 at 9:56 pm

    Where are the other commissioners? Hales and Novick can’t stop themselves from running down dead-ends.

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  • Buzz July 16, 2014 at 12:21 pm

    They are already announcing how they are going to spend the money they don’t even have yet???

    First they will have to get to three – the third commissioner willing to put their neck and political career on the line for the fee….

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    • MaxD July 16, 2014 at 2:51 pm

      I believe Amanda Fritz has already announced that she will not run again, so she may be willing to vote for this. She has been the one to convince all along anyway.

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  • Ted Buehler July 16, 2014 at 1:16 pm

    If you take the time to articulate your thoughts on, consider taking another minute or two and forwarding your opinion on to the folks making the decision.

    Ted Buehler

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