How desperate are Oregonians for safer roads?
People in the central Oregon district of State Senator Tim Knopp were so distraught by a spate of fatal and serious injury collisions late last year, they worked with him to introduce a bill that would create a State Transportation Donation Fund. Senate Bill 798 had its first hearing on March 20th and it passed through the Senate Committee On Business and Transportation.
Senator Knopp, whose district includes the cities of Bend, Sunriver and Redmond, testified in favor of the bill at that hearing. “During an 11-day period last December we had 10 fatalities,” he shared. “It was unbelievable. There was a father and a son, a pregnant woman, two Portland physics professors… It seemed quite hopeless, almost daily… You’re kind of wondering, ‘What is going on? What can we do? Is there a solution to this?'”
Knopp said his constituents contacted him wanting to “do something about traffic safety.” While he acknowledges that a new transportation funding package will help, Knopp feels this donation fund would create a needed avenue for people who are “grieving and grasping for something tangible they can do.”
“Facebook and GoFundMe don’t seem adequate,” Sen. Knopp said at the hearing.
The bill would create a fund within the Oregon Department of Transportation that could accept gifts and donations from individuals. According to an official summary of the bill, the fund would be used to “generate profits, dividends, and interest” which in turn could be allocated to specific transportation projects earmarked by the donor. If no project was named by the donor, the Oregon Transportation Commission would determine how the money should be spent.
ODOT’s Highway Division Administrator Paul Mather also testified at the hearing. He said existing law already allows state agencies to accept gifts or donations of cash, land, or materials via Oregon Revised Statute 293.090. However the process isn’t easy to follow and it’s very rare that anyone ever uses it.
I followed-up with Mather via email this week and asked for any recent examples of donations received by ODOT. He said someone donated $48,000 toward the Salem Baggage Depot Restoration Project in January 2015. And last October someone send ODOT a check of $250 with a memo line that read, “for Oregon’s roads.”
Asked by committee Chair Lee Beyer whether he supported SB 798, Mather declined to take a position and only said that it would formalize the existing process. If the bill passes, ODOT would set up a fund at the State Treasury.
Is this really what we’ve come to in Oregon? Crowdfunding for the basic need of safe roads? If people felt like ODOT was doing its job — doing as much to make highways safe as they do to make them bigger, faster and smoother — bills like this would never exist.