Amid talk of congestion relief, Salem Dems reboot transportation bill talks

Posted by on April 18th, 2016 at 12:44 pm

Speaker of the Oregon House Tina Kotek

Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

The 2017 Oregon legislature hasn’t even been elected yet, but state House and Senate leaders are getting ready for another try at a transportation bill.

Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, and House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-North Portland, told the Salem Statesman Journal that they’re planning another “bipartisan, bicameral legislative committee” to start negotiating a deal that would presumably include a statewide gas tax hike.

They went into the 2015 session with what seemed to be a similar plan and the backing of a broad coalition of interest groups, even the gasoline and freight industries. But Republicans refused to pass the deal without repeal of a low-carbon fuel standard. A special bipartisan committee met behind closed doors for weeks, trying to come up with an alternative carbon-reduction plan, but their agreement withered almost as soon as it saw the light of day.

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It’s not yet clear who’ll be on the 2017 negotiating committee. “A spokeswoman for Kotek said the appointments will be made in a few weeks,” the Statesman Journal reported.

In her annual State of the State speech this month, Gov. Kate Brown called for a bill that would “reduce congestion.” What steps Brown would take to achieve that goal remain to be seen; but a typical response to her framing of the issue is to build more and wider highways. And despite all the evidence and common sense, much of the political class is still stuck in 1970s-era thinking that the next travel lane will be the one that never fills up.

Asked at a recent forum how they’d relieve congestion, nearly all 11 candidates for the Clackamas County Commission said they’d support widening I-205. Several of the candidates even went so far as to specifically oppose investments in public transit and biking. “We know there are no congested bike lanes or sidewalks, just congested highways and freeways,” Clackamas County Commissioner Paul Savas was quoted in the Lake Oswego Review. “That is where we need to invest our dollars right now.” (Savas is also a member of Metro’s Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation — a body with great influence over regional spending priorities.)

Some transportation reformers, such as former Metro President David Bragdon, have begun urging state legislators to deny any additional funding for the Oregon Department of Transportation without changes to its operations that would focus it more on mobility and safety and less on automotive speeds.

Legislative election season is starting to ramp up. Voters will select the 2017 legislature on Nov. 8.

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 – michael@bikeportland.org

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44 Comments
  • Avatar
    Eric Leifsdad April 18, 2016 at 1:12 pm

    $5-10/gal fossil fuel tax would be a good start, though state policy should make some allowance for whenever federal carbon tax finally catches up.

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      bikeninja April 18, 2016 at 2:16 pm

      I like it. If we go ahead with the transportation bill and crank up the gas tax by $5-$10 per gallon then traffic would drop off so much that we wouldn’t need the highway widening. Problem solved, extra money availible to repair infrastructure, add trasit, and enable vision zero.

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        David Hampsten, now in Greensboro NC April 18, 2016 at 4:54 pm

        The fix would be temporary at best. Italy & Germany have $5-$10 gas taxes, for many years now, and massive auto congestion that is only getting worse. In both places, the money is chiefly used to build more freeways, highways, and local roads, though some is also used for high-speed rail.

        The biggest difficulty in Oregon (and here in NC for that matter) is convincing state legislators (who tend to be very conservative no matter their party affiliation) that the money should be used for alternative modes, rather than for more or wider roadways. There is not much point in raising the gas tax if it is all going towards roads anyway.

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          Eric Leifsdad April 18, 2016 at 11:57 pm

          $5 is a start, $15 might actually cover the ongoing damage. $25/gal if we want to catch up in a few decades.

          Covered bikeways with a climate-controlled tailwind alongside every major highway? Velomobile-worthy bike routes? Paying the true price of gas isn’t the whole answer.

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          • Adam H.
            Adam H. April 19, 2016 at 9:19 am

            We need to reform ODOT before raising the gas tax. Unfortunately in this political climate, more gas taxes will almost certainly result in more highway expansion.

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        David Hampsten, now in Greensboro NC April 18, 2016 at 5:41 pm

        It is a bit more complicated than that. To use state funds, cities are required to supply a certain percentage of local funds, called “local match”, usually about 20% of the cost, but sometimes as little as 10.3%, and as much as 90%. Until this funding is supplied, ODOT uses funds it has to do what it likes, which usually involves building roads.

        Given present state laws, if the gas tax is raised a lot (say over $1 per gallon), then any new infrastructure project from PBOT would require more local match than PBOT could possibly supply. Therefor, any gas tax increase over 10 cents essentially goes entirely to ODOT and skips the cities, which means most funding would pay for highways, no matter the desire of legislators (or us) to do otherwise.

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  • Adam H.
    Adam H. April 18, 2016 at 1:13 pm

    Multnomah County already gave Clackamas commuters a free bridge. Now they’re asking for highway widening too. This is in addition to the county consistently blocking public transport investments. Notice how the proposed route for the SW Corridor conveniently skirts the Clackamas border? We need to stop subsidizing suburban commuters to the detriment of city-dwellers. The suburban experiment was a vast mistake. Stop imposing your mistake on everyone else, too.

    I’d like to see Gov. Brown give more control over transportation funding to cities. Skip over ODOT entirely and dole out funding directly to PBOT and other city transportation bureaus. Then let those cities spend the funds on ALL transportation, not just roads. That includes implementing congestion pricing. ODOT can then manage everything outside urban growth boundaries.

    How much of our state’s prosperity is wasted on the futile pursuit of trying to build out of congestion? Imagine if we used those funds on something that actually helps people!

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      Random April 18, 2016 at 2:14 pm

      “The suburban experiment was a vast mistake.”

      620,000 people in Portland, 1.6 million in the suburbs (including Clark County).

      It seems that most people in the Portland metro area don’t agree with the “vast mistake” hypothesis.

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        Munkey77 April 18, 2016 at 2:36 pm

        Yes, some of us live where we work and that is in the suburbs.

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        bikeninja April 18, 2016 at 2:43 pm

        James Howard Kunstler calls suburban sprawl “the greatest misallocation of resources the world has ever known.

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        charlietso April 18, 2016 at 2:52 pm

        Yes, more people live in the suburbs than in the urban centers across all metropolitan regions in the U.S. but that does not mean this phenomenon happened as a direct result of choice or preferences. Decades of decentralizing and auto-oriented transportation and land use policy created today’s massive suburban and sprawling landscape.

        What Adam was trying to say was that (I think) that history has shown that subsidizing big roads and long suburban commutes often disproportionately puts the burden on urban dwellers and encourages more driving for people living in the suburbs. And that is not an “experiment” that we want to repeat.

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          Dave April 21, 2016 at 7:46 pm

          Amen, the notion of “choice” is exaggerated and distorted beyond any relation to reality in this discussion–people end up in suburbs seeking housing they can afford and schools that haven’t been let to fall apart.

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        Chris I April 18, 2016 at 7:44 pm

        And they complain constantly about their commutes, and traffic, and how “hard it is to keep the weight off”.

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      Active April 18, 2016 at 2:46 pm

      Most funding for ODOT comes from the federal government, not the state. Yes, there are state bond funds to repair bridges and other Oregon packages like JTA, but most of ODOT’s money is federal. The feds are not going to give it directly to cities.

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        paikiala April 18, 2016 at 4:24 pm

        Nuance:
        The funding for projects (management, outreach, construction) is other people’s tax money. The funding to operate the department, that comes from Oregon tax payers.

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        David Hampsten, now in Greensboro NC April 18, 2016 at 4:58 pm

        Federal funding has been drying up since 1993, when they last raised gas taxes. It is not as important as it used to be; in the 70s, the Feds would pay 90% of highway costs, but now it is less than 20%. They are still important for big transit projects, but the competition from other cities is very fierce.

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        J_R April 18, 2016 at 5:37 pm

        “Most funding for ODOT comes from the federal government.” NO. NO. NO. WRONG. WRONG. WRONG. You are simply making this up!

        Look at page 59 of the ODOT Budget Book that can be found on the ODOT website.

        https://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/CS/20132015%20Budget%20Documents/ODOT_2013-15%20LegislativelyAdoptedBudget.pdf

        For the 2013-2015 biennium, the total ODOT budget is $3.5 billion. Federal funding is $810 million. Federal funds account for less than one-quarter of ODOT’s budget, not “most.”

        ODOT’s budget includes $484 million that is passed directly to counties and $330 million to cities.

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          Active April 18, 2016 at 7:53 pm

          You are absolutely right, JR. My mistake.

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          • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
            Michael Andersen (News Editor) April 21, 2016 at 9:26 pm

            What a mature response to J_R’s characteristically useful and well-informed but pretty grumpy comment. 🙂 Thanks, Active! Good Comment Citizenship Award of the Day.

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    charlietso April 18, 2016 at 1:19 pm

    “We know there are no congested bike lanes or sidewalks, just congested highways and freeways” sometimes, elected officials’ backward logic really makes me question how they got elected in the first place. So you know walking and biking work really well and driving means more congestion, and you want to stop funding what work well and invest in more congestion?

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      David Hampsten, now in Greensboro NC April 18, 2016 at 5:06 pm

      They, especially the Oregon Democrats among them, also sincerely believe in the CRC, and presumably the tooth fairy, Santa Clause, and that their electricity is all hydro. Keep in mind that they all have to drive to Salem, and that over 70% of their voters (over 90% in many areas) only drive cars.

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    RH April 18, 2016 at 1:22 pm

    I’m guessing in 25 years 80% of the cars on the road will be electric with auto drive. Why invest in expensive freeway infrastructure when traffic counts will be much lower?

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      paikiala April 18, 2016 at 4:26 pm

      Until cars drive themselves around, congestion is unlikely to decrease. Working on the pollution problem of automobiles (low emissions x multitude) will not solve the space issue of the number of cars on the roadway. Congestion is about space available v. space demand.

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        Dan A April 19, 2016 at 2:41 pm

        Congestion won’t decrease, but it’s not going to just keep increasing indefinitely either.

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    m April 18, 2016 at 1:27 pm

    Bragdon is a major blowhard who ditched Portland for NYC. Anything he says should be taken with a pound of salt. Way more style than substance. That said, raising the gas tax is a no-brainer.

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    bikeninja April 18, 2016 at 1:41 pm

    With leaders like this we might as get started seeding wetlands plants in the Pearl District so we can be ready for its near term future as a swamp.

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    TJ April 18, 2016 at 1:55 pm

    The STJ Bridge is a congested bike (share) lane.

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    Andrew N April 18, 2016 at 1:57 pm

    Any widening of I-205 should only be done as part of a deal that removes the blight of I-5 from the east bank of the river.

    Portland needs to play hardball with the state and with ODOT. We need to be exercising our political and economic clout right now — they need us more than we need them, particularly given the extreme dysfunction pervading more than one state agency. If I were the mayor I’d be doing some serious arm-twisting behind the scenes.

    Also, I don’t think Bragdon is a “blowhard” at all. I find it ironic that it takes someone from outside the state to say these sorts of reasonable things — and sad that the (Democratic) Speaker of the House has so little credibility on transportation issues given her vociferous support of the CRC debacle right up until the bitter end.

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      Random April 18, 2016 at 2:09 pm

      “Portland needs to play hardball with the state and with ODOT. We need to be exercising our political and economic clout right now”

      Portland has 620,000 people. Washington and Clackamas counties have 975,000 people.

      Do the math.

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        Gary B April 18, 2016 at 2:30 pm

        Ok, I did. My math says the $/Portland-resident to remove I-5 will be about 1/100 of the $/suburb-resident to build those new lanes. (Full disclosure, I didn’t actually do any math, and I don’t know the actual ratio, but you get my point).

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        Andrew N April 18, 2016 at 4:30 pm

        It’s about so much more than population, Random.

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          David Hampsten, now in Greensboro NC April 18, 2016 at 5:13 pm

          True, but when push comes to shove, constitutionally the State is always in a stronger position than any City. And Portland has historically had almost no spine, at least not in the last 20 years, and certainly not at PBOT.

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    Josh G April 18, 2016 at 2:01 pm
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      soren April 18, 2016 at 2:07 pm

      Josh, thanks for the link. Some useful charts there.

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    Jeff April 18, 2016 at 2:05 pm

    Is that also Tina Kotek in the header image for the BikePortland site?

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      Lester Burnham April 18, 2016 at 2:12 pm

      Naw…Kotek is a politician, they don’t really ride bikes.

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    bikeninja April 18, 2016 at 3:14 pm

    Maybe instead of just getting an influx of new residents from California and Texas we can trade to equal things out. Legislators and leaders from Clackamus County can move to Southern California and Dallas to drive on the multi-lane highways that they love and people who ride bikes in those places can move here.

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      Dan A April 19, 2016 at 2:43 pm

      The problem is that those roads don’t have enough lanes.

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  • Lenny Anderson
    Lenny Anderson April 18, 2016 at 5:10 pm

    Unfortunately gas taxes and vehicle registration can only be used for roads.
    I hope this goes to the ballot and is defeated unless accompanied on the ballot by an amendment to the state constitution that gives local jurisdictions flexibility in spending gas tax and vehicle registration dollars for locally desired modes. Increased taxes and fees would be dependent on approval of the amendment.
    If Clackamas county wants to help its citizens drive to jobs in Washington county, it should build a bridge over the Willamette between Oak Grove and Lake Oswego, both in the county, with the needed road “improvements” to make a good connection to 217. Not likely as while many there want “better roads,” even more do NOT want more roads in their own communities, just in someone else’s.
    Note that the freeway network was largely built through poor areas that could not defend themselves until the ’70’s brought things to a halt, and that I-205 makes a big, weird swing to the south to avoid…yes, Lake Oswego!

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      David Hampsten, now in Greensboro NC April 18, 2016 at 5:36 pm

      Technically, it is for new infrastructure only (road widening, sidewalks, new pavement markings, protected bike lanes, new multi-use paths, bridges, etc.), but not for road maintenance or rebuilding existing roadways, except insofar as any new improvements (infill sidewalks, for example). For transit, it can be used to buy more vehicles and new transit infrastructure, as well as right-of-way, but only a small portion can be used for maintenance and operations. For all modes, it can be used for personnel costs related to planning, design, engineering, and construction, but only for the approved infrastructure project portions.

      I think I may see your point. Given present state laws, if the gas tax is raised a lot (say over $1 per gallon), then any new infrastructure project from PBOT would require more local match than PBOT could possibly supply. Therefor, any gas tax increase over 10 cents essentially goes entirely to ODOT and skips the cities, which means most funding would pay for highways, no matter the desire of legislators to do otherwise.

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    Tom April 18, 2016 at 6:30 pm

    At least CA is working on VMT reduction and estimating induced demand. OR legislators have not even heard of those concepts, or just too dense to understand them.

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    Abide April 18, 2016 at 9:08 pm

    Clackistan and the Oregon legislature need a Strongtowns.org education so they can comprehend that their road obsession will bankrupt us all.

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    Mike April 19, 2016 at 6:33 pm

    I wrote every local (to Salem) legislator and Tina Kotek telling them to NOT support an unnecessary Third Bridge in Salem and explaining how we could reduce the rush hour congestion by properly pricing fuel and parking. So far i have only heard from two legislators one being conservative Bill Post who is against the bridge. Just goes to show you that stupidity (i.e.supporting highway funding) is not isolated to one party. Any Dem that talks about climate change and environmental justice and then supports “congestion relief” is a hypocrite.

    And ODOT must be stopped.

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