Legislator’s ODOT donation bill shows how desperate people are for safer roads

Posted by on March 30th, 2017 at 3:17 pm

In 11 days last December, 10 people died while driving on highways in central Oregon.

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.

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Senator Knopp.

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.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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33 Comments
  • Avatar
    Gary B March 30, 2017 at 3:42 pm

    If only there were a mechanism in place to fund road fixes BEFORE they contributed to the death of your loved one.

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    m March 30, 2017 at 3:46 pm

    Any article about funding issues (whether transportation, education, or whatever) needs to cite PERS as the 8000 pound gorilla never to be forgotten.

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      Loowit March 31, 2017 at 10:54 am

      Too bad the government kept pushing off the funding until it became the 8000 pound gorilla that it is.

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        m March 31, 2017 at 12:56 pm

        Too bad the negotiations that allowed the creation of the now 8000 pound gorilla had PERS beneficiaries on both sides of the table. Talk about corrupt.

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    Kyle Banerjee March 30, 2017 at 3:49 pm

    That mechanism is much higher taxes which just isn’t going to happen. The kind of money donations will raise is just a drop in the bucket.

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    Bjorn March 30, 2017 at 4:01 pm

    Pretty sure that ODOT has demonstrated that they are the wrong organization to determine how money should be spent to increase safety. I’d rather the decision making be in another department, one that actually cares about saving lives.

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      J_R March 30, 2017 at 4:48 pm

      Please be careful whom you blame; it’s not always the fault of ODOT personnel. The state legislature passed the bill dictating the increase in rural speed limits in the last legislative session.

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        I wear many hats March 31, 2017 at 9:34 am

        Speed doesn’t kill, poor driving does. Otherwise every German Autobahn driver would be 6 feet under. Drive human speeds around humans, and pass carefully in rural areas. Drive constantly scanning and looking at mirrors. A significant component of dangerous driving here in this state is Oregonians’ penchant for passive aggressive traffic calming via their “left lane entitlement syndrome”, their “65 is good enough” for everyone attitude, and their inability to cede / yield to overtaking vehicles. This bill is a joke, and I personally know some of the people that passed away on Oregon roads this year. It takes two bad drivers to have an “accident”.

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          9watts March 31, 2017 at 9:36 am

          Too fast for conditions is one very important component of poor driving. Not sure why you are splitting this particular hair.

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          Chris I April 1, 2017 at 4:50 pm

          The Autobahn is composed of high-quality divided highways in a country with strict licensing and vehicle inspection requirements. Using that as justification to increase speed limits on undivided, poor quality rural roads in a country with piss-poor regulation and lack of regular vehicle inspection requirements is incredibly ignorant.

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      wsbob March 30, 2017 at 5:33 pm

      ODOT builds and maintains exactly what the public wants it to build and maintain. It’s the public that perhaps doesn’t care enough about saving lives, to tell the dept to build roads that provide the level of protection that some Oregonians feel important to prioritize, against problems that actually arise from bad driving, and biking, and walking…rather than from the nature of design and maintenance of the states road system.

      Senator Knopp’s bill, may not be a bad idea. If passed into law, it could help to put members of the public’s name on particular road situations people feel are especially in need of safety measures. Personalizing the public’s concern, a bit in the way sections of roadside in Oregon can be adopted by individuals and groups, and kept clean of trash and other debris. That may help to reduce the frequency of these collisions occurring, that arise because some of the people using the road, do not care enough about the safety of other people their bad road use manner can and does have a serious effect upon.

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        Alex Reedin March 30, 2017 at 6:59 pm

        As I’ve detailed to you in at least one past comment, the ODOT policymaking function is far from a pass-through of what Oregon citizens want. From who runs for office, to who funds their campaigns, to who votes, to who engages in lobbying, there is room for quite a lot of daylight between “what the public wants” and “what ODOT does.”

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          wsbob March 30, 2017 at 11:51 pm

          “…From who runs for office, to who funds their campaigns, to who votes, to who engages in lobbying, there is room for quite a lot of daylight between “what the public wants” and “what ODOT does.” ” reedin

          Sure, I get all that. Where though, so to speak, ‘the rubber meets the road’, the public seems to be desiring exactly what ODOT provides it with in terms of infrastructure for motor vehicle travel, except: they’d like less congestion, and maybe higher speed limits for shorter drive times.

          How do I come to feel this is the case? Read the newspapers, listen to the news, to people in conversation. Except on this bikeweblog, and I suppose, around active transportation group circles, not many people seem to be very earnestly calling out for safety measures that would result in more drive time on the road. Or less freedom to drive, or more expense involved in order to drive, or to get a license, etc…I expect you get the idea.

          I recognize what you’re talking about: the disconnect on some issues between what the public asks of their electeds and the bureaucracy, and what those government components actually provide to the public…for example, the public always wants government to spend less, when what often happens, is government spends more. When it comes to roads though, the impression coming from the casual sources I mentioned, is that the public prioritizes over all other concerns…fast, efficient, unobstructed and low cost availability of roads for use with motor vehicles.

          Now if you and other people like watts, don’t feel comfortable with the viability of sources I rely on for indication of what the public is asking of ODOT, and getting, for roads and maintenance of them…get your own, conduct some study or whatever other means it is you have in mind. The simple, basic and obvious fact is, that the public is not generally rejecting the work ODOT is doing. If you think you have more viable sources that will indicate differently, more power to you, go for it. Good luck!

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            9watts March 31, 2017 at 7:49 am

            You earlier claimed: “ODOT builds and maintains exactly what the public wants it to build and maintain.”

            Now you’re saying: “the public seems to be desiring exactly what ODOT provides it with…”

            “The simple, basic and obvious fact is, that the public is not generally rejecting the work ODOT is doing…”

            Those more recent two statements are both ex post rationalizations, inferences that the lack of protest equals alignment of goals. But you have no idea if that is a fair inference. And since we here are protesting, can be counted on to reliably object—and we are also members of the public—how can you assert that we are the exception? You have no evidence.

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            Kyle Banerjee March 31, 2017 at 9:46 am

            Alex Reedin
            there is room for quite a lot of daylight between “what the public wants” and “what ODOT does.”

            The public wants an awesome system that does everything but doesn’t want to pay for it.

            I used to work for the state. It’s a gig I won’t do again. You get contradictory demands from every yahoo who thinks they know everything and insistence, insistence on providing input on everything, and a constant need to document and justify everything to the nth degree so you spend a buck proving you didn’t waste a nickel.

            Being accountable requires a ton over overhead, and when you do that, you get accused of being bureaucratic even though you’re legislatively required to do so. Most processes require balancing conflicting interests but anyone who doesn’t get their way labels you as an enemy.

            Having said all that, I saw a lot of truth about many of the negative stereotypes about state agencies and employees. The desperate and the dregs stick around forever because they can’t get another gig. Normal people move on to where they can actually do something.

            Until we quit electing know nothing zealots who we eviscerate if they show any signs of trying to identify common ground with opponents to build upon, this situation won’t change. I’m not holding my breath.

            wsbob
            …the public prioritizes over all other concerns…fast, efficient, unobstructed and low cost availability of roads for use with motor vehicles.

            This is what it boils down to. Outside a small constituency, this is the only idea that sells as far as transport goes

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        9watts March 30, 2017 at 11:14 pm

        “ODOT builds and maintains exactly what the public wants it to build and maintain.’

        You keep saying this, with zero evidence. I’ve repeatedly asked you to show how this supposedly works. Until you do I will consider this to be utterly fanciful.

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    B. Carfree March 30, 2017 at 4:38 pm

    The most cost-effective way to have safe roads is to enforce our traffic laws. The tragedy here is that we can now mostly do that without putting cops or the scofflaws at risk by using available technology wisely and extensively. People are social, teachable creatures. A few years of enforcement would change our road culture in a good way.

    Instead, we’ll pass some donation law that allows a few legislators to send virtue signals that they care about our insane amount of CARnage. It creates a desire to go bang my head against a wall. At least that eventually stops.

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      Kyle Banerjee March 31, 2017 at 11:25 am

      The cops could start by obeying the traffic laws themselves — seems like they hardly ever drive the speed limit.

      It invites contempt for the law when those charged with enforcing it don’t follow it themselves.

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    Todd Boulanger March 30, 2017 at 4:48 pm

    Great idea! Something bad is going on on our region’s roadways…drivers are just driving crazily around in a distracted rush…I just cannot remember another year like this…its as if many of our drivers just got a new license all at the same time and 2 jobs…

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      Todd Boulanger March 30, 2017 at 4:51 pm

      …others have commented on this in Vancouver’s downtown…that with all the business activity parking (and cheap 50¢ / hour) has gotten scarce and so drivers are driving madly around to get it…a driver tried to drove through our group of 3 pedestrians in a crosswalk just to claim an open space 20 feet from us at lunch…

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    J_R March 30, 2017 at 4:51 pm

    If only handful of Republicans had joined with the Democrats to enact an increase in the gas tax in the last session, there’d be millions of dollars collected from motorists to spend on safety.

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    Brett March 30, 2017 at 6:58 pm

    This is flat out offensive. Knopp is a right wing anti government menace who sponsored HB3402 in 2015 that raised the speed limits on Central Oregon (two lane non divided) highways. This carnage he is decrying is partly of his responsibility and this feel good measure is a distraction. Real solutions exist but he is against them.

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      Dave March 30, 2017 at 7:13 pm

      Wow, did not know that–I’m not an Oregon resident. What is wrong with this country–we can ALWAYS afford to send the US military overseas to committ mass murder but have to squeeze every unnecessary penny from anything else. We can afford to kill–we won’t let ourselves spend one red cent to save lives.

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      9watts March 30, 2017 at 11:17 pm

      With friends like Knopp, who needs enemies?

      “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?’”

      Like these were acts of God or something?! My suspicion is that some combination of speed and distraction can explain all of those ten fatalities. No need to go all mysterious.

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    Dave March 30, 2017 at 7:11 pm

    I hope with my whole heart that whatever is necessary happens to jack
    American gas prices permanently up beyond European levels suddenly and permanently.
    Doubling or tripling the price of gas would lighten the right feet of many and get others to question whether each disconnected car trip is a need or not.

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    buildwithjoe March 30, 2017 at 7:14 pm

    April 1st joke.. like ODOT causes many of these deaths by putting trip times ahead of safety. The 200 million over budget cost of US 20 would be my prime example. All that money to cut time off a trip and speed up the road. Why not just slow the road down to save some lives?

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  • Adam H.
    Adam H. March 30, 2017 at 7:30 pm

    ODOT doesn’t deserve a single extra dime until they stop wasting money on highway expansion. The money is there, but ODOT isn’t spending it on the right things. No more handouts to ODOT!

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    9watts March 30, 2017 at 11:23 pm

    This reminds me of Novick’s letter to Santa asking for money.
    https://bikeportland.org/2013/12/19/novick-asks-santa-for-1-3-billion-for-streets-and-talks-of-per-property-fee-98918
    Maybe these elected officials missed their true calling…

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      Stephen Keller March 31, 2017 at 6:16 am

      …as comedy writers?

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        9watts March 31, 2017 at 6:53 am

        I was thinking as TV hucksters, those preachers who con little old ladies into sending in money for their schemes.

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    RMHampel March 31, 2017 at 9:38 am

    B. Carfree
    The most cost-effective way to have safe roads is to enforce our traffic laws. The tragedy here is that we can now mostly do that without putting cops or the scofflaws at risk by using available technology wisely and extensively. People are social, teachable creatures. A few years of enforcement would change our road culture in a good way.
    Instead, we’ll pass some donation law that allows a few legislators to send virtue signals that they care about our insane amount of CARnage. It creates a desire to go bang my head against a wall. At least that eventually stops.
    Recommended 9

    Agreed… but
    safety in virtually all aspects of our lives has 90% to do with the human apes that we are and how we behave. Fix roads all you want, tame speed limits, but don’t expect dramatic reductions in human misery on the roads as long as apes drive automobiles.

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      DMan April 5, 2017 at 9:22 am

      Funny…True, but funny!

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    DMan April 5, 2017 at 9:29 am

    This bill is a total Waste…if you think anyone is going to donate millions to fix the roads, then you are delusional, it’s just not going to happen…so pat yourself on the back for a thought and then find a way to fund your local police/sheriffs. The current Highway Fund structure is no longer adequate to fix the roads and repair/replace bridges in an efficient manner, but the taxpayers are always against paying more.

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