Voters fuel landslide win for local gas tax that will pump $70.5 million into PBOT coffers

Portland bicycle riders doing their part to raise PBOT revenue. Just kidding. This photo is from a protest against oil companies in 2012. (Jonathan Maus / BikePortland)

Commissioner Mingus Mapps and leaders of the Portland Bureau of Transportation can breathe a sigh of relief this morning as their 10-cent per gallon gas tax was approved by voters last night.

Known as Fixing Our Streets, the program will now pump an estimated $70.5 million into city coffers over the next four years. While its success was never seriously in doubt, there was mild consternation given the extremely sour mood of some voters and a popular narrative that Portlanders are feeling overburdened with local taxes.

The passage of the gas tax, combined with the largesse from the Portland Clean Energy Fund, Mapps and his bureau are in a much better place than they were just one year ago when he and Mayor Ted Wheeler sparred over a parking rate increase and Mapps desperately floated an $8 per household fee to shore up the transportation budget.

Last night’s election results show Measure 26-245 with just over 70% support. This is the third time Portland’s local gas tax has won the favor of voters. In 2016 it squeaked by with just 51.3% of the vote (thanks in part to organized opposition from gasoline retailers) and in 2020 nearly 77% voted to increase the price of their fuel to help PBOT pay for road projects and maintenance.

PBOT toyed with increasing the tax to 15-cents per gallon, and making the tax permanent, but those options didn’t poll well so the agency opted for caution and stuck with the same formula as 2020. The revenue will be evenly split between three categories: paving on on busy and local streets; traffic safety infrastructure on school routes, busy streets, and neighborhood greenways; and something PBOT calls, “community street services” which includes responding to pothole repair requests, fixing streetlights and signals, and so on.

PBOT rank-and-file should feel better about last night’s election too. A recent slide shown by one of PBOT’s financial experts at a meeting of their budget advisory committee earlier this month said the Fixing Our Streets revenue will help the bureau pay for 45 positions over the next four years.

And despite what Commissioner Mapps told a private meeting of union members in February, some of the money will indeed be spent on “bike lanes that drive everyone crazy.”

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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Basiluzzo
Basiluzzo
21 days ago

Now if we can just get Mingus Mapps out of the way and let the good people of PBOT do their jobs without his dithering and interference … !

Chris I
Chris I
21 days ago
Reply to  Basiluzzo

Was Mapps responsible for this debacle? Seems like the employees of PBOT are pretty good at screwing things up without his help.

https://bikeportland.org/2023/12/18/crews-have-scrubbed-off-ne-33rd-ave-bike-lanes-382601

Watts
Watts
21 days ago
Reply to  Chris I

Was Mapps responsible for this debacle? 

The “why does everyone blame Hardesty/Eudaly for everything” gang blames Mapps for everything. Film at 11:00.

Watts
Watts
20 days ago
Reply to  Steven

Sage words, but irrelevant to the hypocrisy I was describing.

Steven
Steven
19 days ago
Reply to  Watts

Hardesty was frequently blamed for problems where Dan Ryan or Ted Wheeler were more directly responsible. Add that to a flood of racist and sexist abuse and a false smear campaign by the police union. Seeing the difference now?

Watts
Watts
18 days ago
Reply to  Steven

Seeing the difference now?

No — but I do see a lot of “whataboutism”.

Steven
Steven
18 days ago
Reply to  Watts

I don’t think that word means what you think it means.

jakeco969
jakeco969
20 days ago
Reply to  Steven

If you get into a leadership position it’s good to accept blame personally for whatever happens under your authority and spread credit upon success to the ones doing it.

Basiluzzo
Basiluzzo
21 days ago
Reply to  Basiluzzo

I’m open to being educated but his performance on the bike lanes on SW Broadway, on SW 4th Ave, and on NE 33rd make me doubt him.

Jack s
Jack s
21 days ago

Wow, Portland gas stations sell 176 million gallons of gasoline per year.

🚲
🚲
21 days ago
Reply to  Jack s

I was reading in the NYT this morning that the U.S. burns on average 9 million barrels of gasoline per day (378 million gallons/day). And each gallon of gasoline generates 20 lbs CO2

PTB
PTB
21 days ago
Reply to  🚲

Forget you read that. Everything is gonna be fiiiiiinnnnne. Shhhhh. It’s ok.

Joseph E
21 days ago

They should have gone with 15 cents!

Pockets the Coyote
Pockets the Coyote
21 days ago
Reply to  Joseph E

Being able to vote for a variable amount, say 10/15/20, could be an interesting use case for ranked choice.

Will the last bike commuter turn off their lights
Will the last bike commuter turn off their lights
21 days ago

Great news!
.
Now SUV and pickup truck drivers will have smoother roads to drive on!!!
.
(Based on PBOT budget data, the vast majority of this revenue will go to making it easier and more comfortable to drive.)

dw
dw
21 days ago

I was feeling some dread over seeing the results of the vote on this particular issue. That was unfounded, and I think a result of just reading too many dumb comments on Reddit and Willamette Week.

Some coworkers and I were talking about the results of the election the morning. When the topic of the gas tax came up, I was low-key prepared to go on the defensive. Despite all of them exclusively driving to get around, they voted for it. Every one of them shared some project the city did that they liked – a new crosswalk in their neighborhood, speed bumps on their street, or a repaving project. One even said they like when the city stripes bike lanes because it makes people go slower. Keep in mind, these are people who never ride bikes and only walk occasionally for recreation.

I think the lesson for me here is that I need to get off the internet and talk to people in real life more.

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor
Reply to  dw

I thought the results were interesting overall, and that Mult Co voters showed that they weren’t fitting neatly into anyone’s narrative. For example, I was surprised that the zoo, teachers and gas tax all passed (the zoo was the closest). There didn’t seem to be any giant tax-revolt happening.

On the other hand, we seemed to reject normalizing public disorder — Vasquez handily beat Schmidt in a race that people were watching nationally, and which had become a proxy for a basket of issues.

donel courtney
donel courtney
20 days ago

Its important to note that these were renewals, with the exception of the Zoo bond which passed by the smallest margin. The overall tax burden is basically unchanged.

Fred
Fred
20 days ago
Reply to  donel courtney

I was sad to see that the zoo tax passed. Why on earth do we need zoos when any seven-year-old kid can watch a YouTube video of animals in their native habitat?

Will the last bike commuter turn off their lights
Will the last bike commuter turn off their lights
20 days ago
Reply to  Fred

I guess many in this community enjoy seeing caged animals suffer…

Watts
Watts
20 days ago
Reply to  Fred

Needed or not, as long as we have zoos, I want the animals there to be treated well.

jakeco969
jakeco969
20 days ago
Reply to  Watts

The sticking point is that’s it’s inherently cruel in the best of facilities and the Oregon zoo is most definitely not the best of facilities. What you want is not what’s happening.

Watts
Watts
20 days ago
Reply to  jakeco969

What you want is not what’s happening.

I agree; but when I was deciding how to vote, I figured that more money would yield better conditions than less. Maybe I’m wrong, but I didn’t have much to go on.

jakeco969
jakeco969
20 days ago
Reply to  Watts

It does seem logical that more money would equal things getting better and maybe somewhere that’s true, but for the zoo explicitly there is no getting better and I don’t think tax money should directly fund blatant animal cruelty.
I do want the animals helped and I do hope their suffering is alleviated somewhat, I just doubt it actually will when there are so many recent examples of fiduciary mismanagement (to be polite).

Watts
Watts
19 days ago
Reply to  jakeco969

“there is no getting better”

I’ve seen zoos that were nothing short of horrific (overseas). There are many gradations of better and worse, and money is often the limiting factor.

I didn’t know what Metro will do with the money, but I do know that if they don’t have it, they won’t use it for bettering conditions. I also know that without the money, they won’t be shutting down.

We both want the same thing, we both have very limited information, and we simply evaluated at differently.

jakeco969
jakeco969
20 days ago
Reply to  Fred

An issue we agree completely on!

Steven
Steven
17 days ago
Reply to  Fred

I dunno, why do we need parks when any seven-year-old can just watch a nature documentary on TV? Why fly a kite when you can just pop a pill?

JW
JW
14 days ago
Reply to  Steven

“why go to a library when you can just download a book on your kindle?”

I’ve been repeating this quote for so long I’ve forgotten if it were an actual quote from when the Kenton library was opened or not.

Joseph E
20 days ago
Reply to  dw

Comment of the Week!

DKSJ
DKSJ
21 days ago

PBOT should have gone bigger and asked for 15 cents/gallon to fund desperately needed improvements/maintenance, *and* made it permanent. Any time a ballot measure wins by such a lopsided margin, that means the amount could have been bigger (and/or the timeline longer)–i.e. the city is “leaving money on the table.” Looks like Mapps and other officials are so cautious or cowed by the PBA that they’re unwilling to ask for what’s actually necessary, even if voters would approve it. A weak and underwhelming victory.

blumdrew
21 days ago

It’s really disappointing that PBOT didn’t go for more on this. There is a clear and obvious consensus that they need more funding – I mean 70% of voters agreeing on something is pretty remarkable. 15 cents would have been nice, but why couldn’t they have at least indexed it to inflation? Feels like we are setting ourselves up for yet another PBOT budget shortfall (YAPBS for short)

Steve
Steve
21 days ago
Reply to  blumdrew

PBOT did polling and the results indicated landslide approval at $0.10 a gallon and then a cliff edge drop in support for any increase in the rate. Not sure the psychology behind the phenomena in voters but the vote did match the polls for this one scenario on the ballot. Anyways, that’s the reason behind PBOT not making a bigger ask.

PS
PS
20 days ago
Reply to  Steve

Not sure about the psychology of voters not being keen on a 50% increase in a tax?

Daniel Reimer
20 days ago
Reply to  PS

It’s not really a 50% increase, gas isn’t going to cost 50% more going from ten cents to 15 cents. Let’s say gas is $4.00 and you have a 10 gallon gas tank to fill. The difference between a 10 cent a gallon tax and a 15 cent tax is only 50 cents more.

That’s roughly 1.2% increase which is significantly less than inflation

PS
PS
20 days ago
Reply to  Daniel Reimer

No kidding, which is why I was talking about the tax and not the price of gas.

Surly Ogre
Joe Bicycles
21 days ago

here is how Fixing Our Streets 3 will/should/could be spent:
https://www.portland.gov/transportation/fixing-our-streets/proposed-measure-26-245

Paving Projects ($23.5 million):
Paving busy streets and neighborhood greenways ($19 million)Paving local streets ($4.5 million)
Traffic Safety Projects ($23.5 million):
Safety on busy streets ($9 million)Safety on neighborhood streets ($6 million)Safe Routes to School ($6 million)Additional safety enhancements ($2.5 million)
Community Street Services ($23.5 million):
Potholes ($5.5 million)Signals and lighting maintenance ($3.5 million)Gravel street service ($4 million)Base repair ($4 million)Safer intersections ($2 million)Pedestrian, bicycle, and public space retrofits ($2.5 million)Residential street safety and traffic calming ($2 million)
about 1/3 paving 1/3 safety 1/3 community
Projects in each 1/3 benefit bicycling 🙂

SolarEclipse
SolarEclipse
21 days ago
Reply to  Joe Bicycles

As recent history has shown us, what is promised during the election is rarely (shall we just say never?) what is actually done with the funds. The politicians now have multi-10s of millions of dollars to spend on showcase projects with lots of ribbon cutting ceremonies for press conferences. That list likely won’t be any of them.
I hope that I’m completely wrong, but I won’t be holding my breath.

Watts
Watts
21 days ago
Reply to  SolarEclipse

what is promised is rarely what is actually done

At one point I actually believed PCEF would be dedicated to clean energy/climate projects.

mc
mc
20 days ago
Reply to  Watts

And it still is. From BP”s previous article, “The approved budget was balanced by using $7 million in earned interest from PCEF — a maneuver that requires an amendment to city code that will need to be discussed before the budget is final in June.”

More often than not, at all levels of gov’t, they get it wrong. PCEF is getting a 1% tax from large retailers with $1 billion in national revenue and $500,000 in revenue in Portland.

Business as usual is to give them tax breaks and then all the costs of them doing business is externalized on the community and the city.

The folks at PCEF are getting it right and winning by being able to help out PBOT, which benefits all of us.

I see no real problem here. I want more financially-savey politicians who are willing & able to cooperate & collaborate for the greater good of Portland and its people.

Watts
Watts
20 days ago
Reply to  mc

I see no real problem here. 

The problem is that voters voted for one thing, but now have a different thing. I, for example, want to spend all the money raised on climate projects, not some on climate and some on backfilling PBOT. That’s what we voted for, that’s not what we’re getting.

If Council had created the PCEF program, then it would be theirs to change. But they didn’t; we did.

Surly Ogre
Joe Bicycles
21 days ago
Reply to  SolarEclipse

@SolarEclipse, you may be wrong, which, in a way, is good news…
here is what Fixing Our Streets 2 built/is building:
https://www.portland.gov/transportation/fixing-our-streets/fixing-our-streets-projects

Paving: Busy Streets
N Ida Avenue (Lombard to Smith) – COMPLETED
NE 138th Place (Halsey to Sacramento) – COMPLETED
NE Killingsworth Street (60th to Portland Highway) – SLATED for summer 2024
SE 122nd Avenue (Steele to Foster) – IN DESIGN, leveraging grants for construction 2026-2027
SE 162nd Avenue (Division to Powell) – COMPLETED
SE Washington Street (102nd to 108th) – IN DESIGN, leveraging grants for construction 2026-2027
SW 45th Avenue (Flower to Vermont) – SLATED for summer 2024
SW Bertha Boulevard (Beaverton Hillsdale Highway to Vermont) – COMPLETED
SUBTOTAL Busy Streets: $20 million

Paving: Neighborhood Streets
N Houghton Street (at Dana) to McCoy Court (at Haven) – COMPLETED
N Tillamook Street (Flint to Williams) – COMPLETED
NE Alberta Street (Cully to 72nd) – COMPLETED
NW Flanders Street (16th to Westover) 
NW Pettygrove Street (19th to 25th) – COMPLETED
SE 87th Avenue (Holgate to Rural) – COMPLETED
SE Bush Street (99th to 112th) – COMPLETED
SUBTOTAL Neighborhood Streets: $5 million

TOTAL Paving: $25 million

Tier 1 priorities in PedPDX: Portland’s Citywide Pedestrian Master Plan, based on the following factors:
Pedestrian crash history 
Distance from another protected crossing
Ability to increase access to transit stops
Alignment with city equity goals
Traffic speed and crossing distance
Proximity to schools, community centers, businesses, and key services
New Signals and Beacons
E Burnside Street at 24th Avenue – IN DESIGN, slated for 2025
NE 114th Avenue at Halsey Street- IN DESIGN, slated for 2025
SE 105th Avenue at Stark Street- IN DESIGN, leveraging grants for construction 2025-2026
SE 105th Avenue at Washington Street- IN DESIGN, leveraging grants for construction 2025-2026
SE César E Chávez Boulevard at Francis Street – NO LONGER REQUIRED due to federal grant
TOTAL New Signals and Beacons: $5 million 

Sidewalks and Other Walkways
NE 42nd Avenue (Killingsworth to Holman) – IN DESIGN, SLATED for 2024
NE Glisan Street (east of 122nd) – IN DESIGN, SLATED for 2025
SE Mill Street (135th to 139th) – COMPLETED
SE Washington Street (80th to 82nd) – IN DESIGN, SLATED for 2024
SW Multnomah Boulevard (37th to 40th) – IN DESIGN, SLATED for 2024
TOTAL Sidewalks and Other Walkways: $4.5 million

Safe Routes to School Projects (listed by school district, with project examples)
Reynolds/Centennial (sidewalk infill on SE 174th Avenue) – IN DESIGN, SLATED for 2024
David Douglas (sidewalk infill on SE Bush Street) – COMPLETED
Parkrose (sidewalk infill on NE Shaver Street) – IN DESIGN, SLATED for 2025
Portland Public (improved signage and markings, as well as ADA ramps at NE 74th and Sandy, at NE Buffalo and Martin Luther King Jr, at SE 14th and Bybee, and on SW Vista) – IN DESIGN, SLATED for 2025
Reynolds (enhanced crossing at NE 148th Avenue and Sacramento Street) – COMPLETED
TOTAL Safe Routes to School Projects: $6 million

Lighting Portland for Safety
NE Glisan Street (102nd to 162nd) – COMPLETED
NE Killingsworth Street (42nd to Portland Highway) – IN DESIGN, SLATED for 2024
SE 122nd Avenue (Stark to Powell) – IN DESIGN, leveraging grants for construction 2025-2026
SE Stark Street (122nd to 162nd) – IN DESIGN, SLATED for 2024
SW Capitol Highway / 49th Avenue (Barbur to Stephenson) – IN DESIGN, SLATED for 2024
TOTAL Street Lighting: $4.5 million

Neighborhood Greenways
N Delaware Avenue (Willamette to Terry) – IN DESIGN, SLATED for 2024
Parkrose Neighborhood Greenway (multiple segments) – IN DESIGN, SLATED for 2024
NE Mason / Skidmore (37th to 77th) – IN DESIGN, SLATED for 2025
NE Sacramento / Knott (122nd to 162nd) – IN DESIGN, SLATED for 2024
SE 60s Greenway (Lincoln to Flavel) – IN DESIGN, SLATED for 2024
SW Bertha Boulevard (Vermont to Barbur) – IN DESIGN, SLATED for 2024
TOTAL Neighborhood Greenways: $4.5 million

Neighborhood Safety Improvements (by area plan)
Northwest in Motion
North Portland in Motion
Southwest in Motion
TOTAL Neighborhood Safety Improvements: $1.5 million

Potholes $5 million

Gravel streets $4 million
Base repairs$4 million
TOTAL Basic Maintenance $13 million

Additional safety enhancements$4 million
Neighborhood Greenway retrofits $2.5 million
Safer intersections $2 million
Traffic calming on cut-through routes $2 million
TOTAL Routine Safety Improvements $10.5 million

jakeco969
jakeco969
20 days ago
Reply to  Joe Bicycles

Thats what you’re being told. Like WATTS said about the PCEF tax earlier in the thread the reality is different.

Jeff S
Jeff S
20 days ago
Reply to  jakeco969

I don’t get it – what on the above list of projects is inaccurate?

Will the last bike commuter turn off their lights
Will the last bike commuter turn off their lights
20 days ago
Reply to  Jeff S

First of all, the 3rd “fixing our streets” ballot measure represents a massive cut in “safety” spending relative to the two previous two measures.

Secondly, PBOT was audited twice by the city auditor’s office and both audits scathingly criticized PBOT’s unwillingness to document “fixing our streets” safety spending. PBOT responded to this criticism by essentially thumbing its nose at the auditor’s office even though the first two fixing our street ballot measure specifically allocated ~50% to safety.

And finally, when the city has provided detailed “fixing our streets” budget data (a rarity), the percentage of spending on “safety” has been minuscule.

It’s unfortunate that cycling enthusiasts are carrying water for this mendacious and unaccountable bureau.

Angus Peters
Angus Peters
21 days ago

Of course it passed. As more and more voters drive EV’s they could care less if others (mostly low income, POC & blue collar workers) have to pay extra fro their gas. Another Portland area tax where too many don’t have “skin in the game”

mc
mc
21 days ago
Reply to  Angus Peters

Yeah! And what about all those drunk a-hole street racers and small d energy d-bags driving around in the Suburban Assault Vehicles that have never been off pavement and those giant-ass fuq’n trucks that make a shit ton of fuq’n noise as they take up the road space of 2 regular cars,

Cars are stupid cray-cray fuq’n expensive way before an extra 10 cent tax to pay for all the maintenance, not to mention all the necessary infrastructure safety improvements required to you know keep cars from killing people and damaging property every day.

If a 10 cent gas tax is truly a financial hardship for people, than there’s a whole bunch of other stuff, you should be concerned about such as housing costs. living wage, healthcare costs, etc to name a few.

Paul
Paul
21 days ago
Reply to  Angus Peters

By my eye test, maybe 5% of cars in Portland are EV. So take all those away and … it still passes overwhelmingly.

Marty Ponnech
Marty Ponnech
20 days ago
Reply to  Paul

That’s changing rapidly (especially amongst the well to do college educated crowd who are more likely to vote).

Battery-only electric vehicles (EVs) accounted for 18% of monthly new vehicle registrations across Portland’s three counties in February, up from just over 9% a year before

https://www.axios.com/local/portland/2023/12/04/electric-vehicle-use-statistics

PS
PS
20 days ago
Reply to  Angus Peters

Sort of says more that turnout was less than 25%. Pretty dismal participation. People already don’t feel like they have skin in the game and their opinion doesn’t matter, of course that’s wrong, but you can’t blame people for feeling disenfranchised.

Joseph E
20 days ago
Reply to  PS

Turnout was actually close to 35%, many of us voted at the last minute
(I rode my bike to the drop off at 7:40pm)
https://www.oregonlive.com/politics/2024/05/in-multnomah-county-staggeringly-high-last-minute-voting-leads-to-uncertainty-about-final-results.html

Tom
Tom
20 days ago
Reply to  Angus Peters

At least new EV owners (or those purchasing any new car) are forced to pay for vehicle registration. Meanwhile nearly 50% of the cars driving on Portland streets have expired tags*. If half of the drivers in this city aren’t willing to pay their fair share with registrations, it seems like the gas tax is a reasonable way to force them to at least chip in something.

* https://www.koin.com/news/portland/nearly-half-of-portland-drivers-have-expired-plates/

Angus Peters
Angus Peters
20 days ago
Reply to  Tom

That’s one way to look at it. For me it’s a pretty sad commentary on Portland that we would have to say a gas tax is needed to make all road users pay at least something since we can’t or won’t enforce basic regulations such as mandatory vehicle registration.

Todd/Boulanger
20 days ago

Some good news for once (this year) that Portland voters agree to support their transportation infrastructure.

It now looks like local fossil fuel taxes for ICE motorized ground vehicles will be similar 50 cents (Portland) and 49.4 cents (Vancouver area).

https://dor.wa.gov/taxes-rates/tax-incentives/deductions/motor-vehicle-fuel-tax-rates

Mark smith
Mark smith
17 days ago

What’s the deal with Mingus becoming the latest lightning rod for bike hate?