Mapps launches gas tax renewal campaign expected to raise $70 million

Commissioner Mingus Mapps and PBOT Director Millicent Williams prepare notes before speaking at this morning’s press conference. (Photo: Lisa Caballero/BikePortland)

— Lisa Caballero contributed to this story.

Standing on a gravel street in southwest Portland this morning, Commissioner Mingus Mapps kicked off the campaign to renew the local gas tax. As we hinted last month after seeing early drafts of the proposal, Mapps confirmed today he won’t increase the tax and it will stay at the 10-cent per gallon rate for the next four years. Mapps’ Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) is in crisis-mode and desperately needs the money, so he was surely tempted to ask for more — but must be mindful of voter sentiment and can’t afford to come away empty-handed.

The tax funds the Fixing Our Streets (FOS) Program first approved by voters in 2016 and renewed in 2020 as a local source of transportation revenue. FOS funds projects like Safe Routes to School, the gravel streets program, and other projects citywide. Its largest expenditure so far has been the recently completed Capitol Highway project. The funding is crucial because only about 20% of PBOT’s $510 million annual budget is discretionary revenue.

Commissioner Mapps and Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) Director Millicent Williams announced the plan at a press conference near a rivulet on SW Arnold Street, one of southwest Portland’s many unpaved streets. It was cold, but spirits were high because, let’s admit it, dump trucks and big equipment bring out the kid in everyone. By the end of the event, PBOT’s maintenance crews had nearly completed grading and graveling the street (they would have been done sooner if they hadn’t had to dodge the assembled press corps).

(Source: PBOT)

PBOT’s draft proposal for how to spend the $70.5 million the tax is expected generate each year includes $23.5 million for paving streets like SW Arnold, as well as busy streets and neighborhood greenways. The plan Mapps will ask voters to approve in May splits the revenue into three equal parts: $23.5 million for “smoother streets”, $23.5 million for “safer streets”, and $23.5 million for “community street services”.

As of today, the FOS website includes more details on the type of projects we can expect from each bucket.

Here’s the breakdown (taken from PBOT):

Smoother Streets

  • $19 million for grind-and-inlay paving projects on the most critical and most used streets that benefit the most people and experience the most wear and tear. This means collector streets and arterials, transit and freight routes, emergency routes, streets on our High Crash Network, and the Neighborhood Greenways that make up our pedestrian and bike network.
  • $4.5 million for crack seal and slurry seal projects on local streets, specifically where there is a high concentration of streets that qualify for this type of pavement preservation work.

Safer Streets

Safety on busy streets: A total of $9 million for crossings, sidewalks, lighting, and other systemic safety fixes on busy streets, as follows:

  • At least $1 million invested in each of the four new city council districts, ensuring all Portlanders see a benefit from these safety investments, for a total of $4 million;
  • $5 million used strategically to make larger safety investments with a focus on areas that score higher on PBOT’s Equity Matrix, especially projects that leverage additional outside funding.

Safety on neighborhood streets: A total of $6 million for safety projects like neighborhood greenways, traffic calming, and crosswalks on local streets and minor collectors that primarily serve the surrounding neighborhoods, as follows:

  • At least $750,000 invested in each of the four new city council districts, ensuring all Portlanders see a benefit from these safety investments.
  • $3 million used strategically to make larger safety investments with a focus on areas that score higher on PBOT’s Equity Matrix, especially projects that leverage additional outside funding.

Safe Routes to School: A total of $6 million for safety projects like crossings, traffic calming, lighting, signage, and improvements along neighborhood greenways directly adjacent to schools and on the main routes regularly used by children and parents to get to school, as follows:

  • At least $750,000 invested in each of the four new city council districts, ensuring all Portlanders see a benefit from these safety investments.
  • $3 million used strategically to make larger safety investments with a focus on areas that score higher on PBOT’s Equity Matrix, especially projects that leverage additional outside funding.

Additional safety enhancements: $2.5 million citywide to strategically leverage repaving projects, utility projects, and other similar work to add safety features like enhanced crossings and other pedestrian and bikeway improvements

Community Street Services

  • Potholes ($5.5million) – Funds a crew to efficiently address potholes
  • Signal and lighting maintenance ($3.5million) – Funds to address the growing backlog of signals and streetlight repair and maintenance
  • Gravel Street Service ($4million) – Funds a crew focused on PBOT’s Gravel Street Service throughout the city
  • Base repair ($4million) – Funds much-needed support for base repairs
  • Safer intersections ($2million) – Funds safety improvements at intersections with signals. Examples: adding accessible pedestrian push buttons, changing signals to give pedestrians a head start crossing the street, and adjustments to signal timing.
  • Pedestrian, bicycle, and public space retrofits ($2.5million) – Funds permanent upgrades to temporary safety installations. Examples: replacing reflective plastic wands along a bike lane with concrete traffic separators; replacing a painted curb extension with a concrete one; or supplementing planters with concrete islands.
  • Residential street safety and traffic calming ($2million) – Provides support for PBOT’S transportation safety and livability hotline to respond to safety concerns from the public. This would also fund traffic safety interventions such as speed bumps on residential streets, with such projects prioritized by safety and equity criteria.

Mapps told the crowd this morning he plans to present the gas-tax renewal to city council at the beginning of the year and that he was confident in the support of his fellow council members. If all goes as planned, voters will be asked to renew the tax on the May, 2024 ballot and it will provide revenue through 2028.

Learn more at the Fixing Our Streets website.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Founder of BikePortland (in 2005). Father of three. North Portlander. Basketball lover. Car owner and driver. If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at maus.jonathan@gmail.com, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

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Happy Guy PDX
Happy Guy PDX
7 months ago

I’m not a George Bush fan but I’m going to use one of his lines:
“Read my lips: no new taxes“ (or renewal of existing ones)
Portland and Multnomah have unfortunately proven to be completely incompetent in the use of taxpayer dollars. It’s time to turn off the faucet.

Frank
Frank
7 months ago
Reply to  Happy Guy PDX

This tax money actually gets used to make the city better though? And they’ve shown they can at least spend it reasonably.

Middle of the Road Guy
Middle of the Road Guy
7 months ago
Reply to  Frank

Right? Adding then removing bike lanes is a great use of funds.

Quint
Quint
7 months ago
Reply to  Happy Guy PDX

This attitude leads to a vicious cycle where the government is starved of revenue, thus has to cut services and provide worse services, which then makes people even more skeptical of new taxes and so and so forth. The fact is, there are a few high-profile recent tax measures that have been mismanaged, and I agree those should cause some concern. But this is not one of those programs and it should be a no-brainer to renew. To treat all taxes and all government programs the same is really not rational.

Doug Hecker
Doug Hecker
7 months ago
Reply to  Quint

They need to cut those executive jobs and be thankful that we don’t do more. Handcuffing the public by taking away essential services is garbage. My holiday wish list includes a few PBOT staffers to find jobs elsewhere.

Middle of the Road Guy
Middle of the Road Guy
7 months ago
Reply to  Quint

Has a government agency ever said “we have enough money”?

Amit Zinman
7 months ago
Reply to  Happy Guy PDX

If you’re quoting George Bush, fan or not, you already lost most of the voters in Portland. #pleasereconsider

Happy Guy PDX
Happy Guy PDX
7 months ago
Reply to  Amit Zinman

Yep very true that there is a high level of intolerance in Portland. It’s unfortunate but there is very little liberal thought (open to different ideas or concepts) in Portland. It’s become very polarized like a lot of the country.

Watts
Watts
7 months ago
Reply to  Happy Guy PDX

What’s more important than the content of what someone says is the identity/political persuasion of the speaker.

Middle of the Road Guy
Middle of the Road Guy
7 months ago
Reply to  Amit Zinman

Sometimes conservatives get it correct.

Michael Mann
Michael Mann
7 months ago
Reply to  Happy Guy PDX

If you don’t want to pay the Gas Tax, stop driving. It works for lots of Portlanders.

Doug Hecker
Doug Hecker
7 months ago
Reply to  Michael Mann

I’m surprised that they come back to us with this funny tax. Soon it will be viewed as the petty arts tax.

Pkjb
Pkjb
7 months ago

I hope the gas tax renewal is successful. It would be good if there was a way to charge EV use as well. I don’t know how to do it in a way that doesn’t disincentivize gas to electric conversion. But all motor vehicle operators should have some skin in the game. Also, conservative voters might relish the opportunity to stick it to electric vehicle owners through additional fees. Might be a good way to build a coalition in favor of adoption.

Lazy Spinner
Lazy Spinner
7 months ago
Reply to  Pkjb

Tire taxes
Mileage taxes
Vehicle weight taxes
Tolls and Congestion Pricing
Overnight Parking Permits for Public Streets

To sway conservatives and ICE owners, you sell the new taxes by reducing the fossil fuel taxes (not eliminate!) because the “EV owners” are going to paying their fair share.

Pkjb
Pkjb
7 months ago
Reply to  Lazy Spinner

I think a fee on overnight street parking would be a tough sell. It’s something that I’d personally like to see. But a lot of people assume street parking on the road in front of their house is a right. I imagine most Portland residents would vote against imposing a fee for something that they believe they are entitled to have for free. Same goes for tolls and congestion pricing. They make tons of sense, and they are highly effective at both generating revenue and cutting down on excess vehicle trips wherever implemented. But they are wildly unpopular with vast swaths of people. Weight, tire, and mileage taxes would probably be a bit less politically fraught to implement, but they are things that would be more effectively implemented at the state level.

Michael Mann
Michael Mann
7 months ago
Reply to  Pkjb

Why put it up for a vote? It’s a user fee, not a tax. No one owns the PUBLIC right of way in front of their house. If you want to use it to store your private vehicle, pony up.

Pkjb
Pkjb
7 months ago
Reply to  Michael Mann

Two points on that:

1) The idea of a parking fee was raised in the context of a comment thread about a proposed upcoming vote in renewing a voter approved gas tax. I was proposing adding to the gas tax fees that would be paid by people that operate electric vehicles.

2) Any decision to price the right of way that is not imposed by a voter initiative will ultimately be made or condoned by elected officials. If a fee is imposed that isn’t popular, it’s possible that people will choose to vote for people that run for office on the promise of eliminating fees.

Michael Mann
Michael Mann
7 months ago
Reply to  Pkjb

Good point on #2. It’s a real Catch-22, isn’t it? If a user fee is imposed by elected officials, voters will chose officials whose campaign promises eliminate the user fees, sustainability be damned. But asking the voters to approve a user fee for the space where they’re currently parking their car right in front of their residence seems like an impossible lift. I also think the fee should be adjusted based on whether the residence has the option of off-street parking (more expensive user fee) or no off-street parking (lower user fee.)

And regarding #1, I agree, and am on record multiple times on the necessity to phase out the gas tax and replace it with a more equitable mileage tax that is scientifically calculated for GVW and the amount of wear and tear different vehicle class weights are responsible for. But on second thought, perhaps the mileage tax should be on top a gas tax, since burning fossil fuels should maybe carry it’s own separate tax anyway.
Either way, we need to come up with a model that creates stable PBOT funding by charging vehicle drivers what the transportation system actually costs. Or at least doing a better job of moving in that direction.

Watts
Watts
7 months ago
Reply to  Michael Mann

It’s a real Catch-22, isn’t it?

Only if you ignore the possibility of actually convincing people that your proposal is a necessary step. That’s how things are supposed to work in a democracy, isn’t it?

Portlanders have historically been willing to impose all manner of taxes on themselves for a variety of reasons. To the extent policy makers have been good stewards of that money, I’m sure we’d do it again.

Michael Mann
Michael Mann
7 months ago
Reply to  Watts

I think the days of Portlanders rubber-stamping every new tax and fee are coming to an end, but maybe I’m wrong. I just think too many citizens are habituated to thinking the curb space belongs to them for free car storage, and when asked to pay for it – to fund a notoriously wasteful and inefficient city agency – they’ll balk. I’d love to be wrong about that, but I think it would take a near miraculous PR blitz to sell it.

Watts
Watts
7 months ago
Reply to  Michael Mann

when asked to pay for it they’ll balk.

Of course they’ll balk. And why wouldn’t they?

I’m not sure where the idea that curb space is not meant for parking came from, or why people here think taking it away is not really taking something away, but I think we agree that getting people to believe it would be near impossible.

A lot of things are technically true, but aren’t true on any practical level (see also: driving is not a right).

Michael Mann
Michael Mann
7 months ago
Reply to  Watts

Is it really “taking something away” if it never belonged to you in the first place? I prefer “reclaiming public space,” as a form of restitution imposed on vehicle owners who’ve been allowed to believe something belonged to them, when in fact it doesn’t.

Watts
Watts
7 months ago
Reply to  Michael Mann

Is it really “taking something away” if it never belonged to you in the first place? 

I believe most people would say that yes, it is.

restitution 

Really?

Michael Mann
Michael Mann
7 months ago
Reply to  Watts

Absolutely. Reclaiming some of the cost imposed on society for decades by car culture and using that money to create healthier and safer streets for vulnerable road users seems reasonable to me.

Middle of the Road Guy
Middle of the Road Guy
7 months ago
Reply to  Michael Mann

Do yo lock your bike up in public spaces?

Michael Mann
Michael Mann
7 months ago

There’s a difference between parking a bike (or car) when visiting a business or place of employment or whatever, and using the public right of way (which is what the street in front of your residence is) for storage of your personal property while you’re at home. And no, I don’t park my bike in the street in front of my house.

I don’t see why people can’t distinguish the difference. It’s not that hard.

Middle of the Road Guy
Middle of the Road Guy
7 months ago
Reply to  Michael Mann

Gonna say there is no difference, you’re just trying to split hairs to justify a behavior.

Private businesses do not own the sidewalks or streets – surely you grasp that. Using public space to store private property for any length of time results in a cost – whether it is overnight or for 30 minutes.

Michael Mann
Michael Mann
7 months ago

The whole point of this article and comment thread was the funding of PBOT. My suggestion was a way to generate consistent revenue from the people who benefit from PBOTs work. You disagree on asking residents to pay to park their cars in front of their residences. Fair enough. (How do you feel about parking meters?)
So your funding ideas are…?
Looking back over your multiple comments, all I see is you criticizing others ideas. There’s a word for posters like that.

Watts
Watts
7 months ago
Reply to  Michael Mann

So your funding ideas are…?

No one has any good ideas, that’s why we’re in the situation we’re in. I think there is some general agreement that a VMT tax would make the most sense, but it’s not clear how to administer that without big negative side effects, which is one reason we haven’t already moved to such a system.

You could, as you propose, tax people who park on the street, but that would focus most of the revenue generation on people who can’t find an off-street place for their car. That doesn’t sound particularly fair, reasonable, or effective.

It’s a difficult situation, and there are no good answers.

Michael Mann
Michael Mann
7 months ago
Reply to  Watts

Most homeowners in Portland have driveways and garages. If they have so many cars they also need the street, I assume they can afford to pay for it, since according to AAA the annual cost of car ownership is about 12K now. And as I said, for those who don’t have a driveway or alley access, they should pay a lower rate.

Michael Mann
Michael Mann
7 months ago

And what behavior, exactly, do you see me trying to justify? Locking my bike up at a public staple rack?

David Hampsten
7 months ago
Reply to  Pkjb

How about a “public right-of-way power line charge” per kilowatt hour on everyone’s power bill?

Will
Will
7 months ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

Portland does charge the power companies for use of the ROW for their equipment. It’s the whole reason the Office of Community Technology exists.

Stephen
Stephen
7 months ago

Hmmm… has anyone seen a list or map of projects that they are going to be completed using this revenue. Looks like PBOT has decided to move away from directly having this revenue go to build projects and instead it will just make up for their budget shortfall. Am I reading this right or is there some link to the projects that we are going to see implemented if passed? This is kind of underwhelming, IMO.

Also, the district lines were drawn so each district has equal population. The proposed FOS equal distribution per district apparently is assuming that car-mile driven is the same for each district. Seems like downtown Portland has a larger car-mile driven per resident than other areas of town. Also, fixes in downtown will benefit residents living in the neighborhoods equally. The neighborhoods lumped with downtown will get the short end of the stick. In this and in many many things to come with the way the city has been carved up. Seems unfair for 1/4 of the neighborhoods be responsible to subsidize downtown just because they got lumped into that district.

cct
cct
7 months ago
Reply to  Stephen

The square milage alone means an area like SW – huge, to get enough people in it – will get disproptionally fewer projects done despite having more roads. Those districts also have disparate construction costs as well – far easier and cheaper to build in Rose City Park then Hillsdale, so again, more projects per person in those areas.

Charley
Charley
7 months ago
Reply to  Stephen

I may be doing the math wrong, but it looks like only $10 million out of an expected annual $70 million would be divided into quarters this way.

$1 million x 4 for street safety in general
$.75 million x 4 for busy streets
$.75 million x 4 for neighborhood streets

Is that right?

In which case, the vast majority of the overall funding could be divided up on a more equitable basis, per traffic impact, or however else they do it.

Quint
Quint
7 months ago
Reply to  Charley

That is correct, very little of the money is actually divided by district, and I think it makes sense just so people have a sense that each district will get some safety improvements, even if they’re small ones.

Quint
Quint
7 months ago
Reply to  Stephen

I’m fine with no project list this time. It made sense in the first round since people weren’t used to the program and it was a hard sell, but by the second round support grew to 77% in favor. At some point, a transportation tax should become flexible funding (within reasonable parameters like these categories) and not be forced into a fixed project list every four years. This will give more flexibility to jump on opportunities to partner with other bureaus or other agencies, go after grants, things like that.

cc_rider
cc_rider
7 months ago

PBOT wants to spend $4 million dumping gravel on the ground to make unimproved roads more usable to through motorists and only $9 million to make sure people don’t die on busy streets.

The car brain rot runs so deep at that broken bureau. This is gonna be a no vote for me.

Priscilla P
Priscilla P
7 months ago
Reply to  cc_rider

Yep, UNTIL voters say no to more funding, the current dysfunction we see is not going to improve at PBOT (and the same goes for the city of Portland, Multnomah County and PPS). Local officials have taken for granted that Portlanders will pass nearly any tax, especially if they think they won’t pay for it, We need to demand accountability and efficiency from our local governments.

Watts
Watts
7 months ago
Reply to  cc_rider

They also want to spend a lot dumping gravel on the ground on improved roads (and bike lanes), only to spend the next 6 months and a bucket of PCEF money to sweep it back up while we ride around on marbles.

bjorn
bjorn
7 months ago
Reply to  cc_rider

It is extremely frustrating that the city refuses to just enforce the requirement that property owners along unimproved streets maintain their streets or bring them up to the minimum standard at which point the city would maintain them going forward. Most owners along these streets got a deal because of their unimproved nature and now they want a windfall from the city.

Ben G
Ben G
7 months ago
Reply to  bjorn

Wait, what? I don’t agree with this angle at all. Most unimproved roadways are just a lazy way to keep cut through traffic down IMO.
Are people people on improved streets maintaining their streets? Seems like mostly people don’t care regardless of surface. I don’t see anyone out fixing potholes themselves. Much more likely people on improved streets are just blowing their leaves into the roadway (and bike lane if applicable) hoping it’ll disappear.

bjorn
bjorn
7 months ago
Reply to  Ben G

The city ordinance says that the city is responsible for maintaining streets built to the improvement standard and adjacent property owners are responsible for maintaining out to the center of the street unimproved streets. If you go to buy a house on an unimproved street you know you have to maintain it, and you know that at some point you could be forced to upgrade it to the improved standard through a LID or other means. Due to this those properties are priced lower because those realities are priced in. I see no reason why the city should be taking on the responsibilities of these property owners for free.

Doug Hecker
Doug Hecker
7 months ago
Reply to  cc_rider

Did you vote for Chloe?

bjorn
bjorn
7 months ago

A willingness to campaign for the gas tax seems like a place where Mapps is actually better than Eudaly, thankfully one can vote for it without having to worry that he is lying about how it will be spent since we will be past the current system by the time this money starts coming in.

Middle of the Road Guy
Middle of the Road Guy
7 months ago

Taxes never go away…