Read this before you attend Tuesday’s public hearing on the 2025 transportation bill

Sign in the lobby of ODOT headquarters in Salem. (Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

This time next year the Oregon Legislature will be in the final stages of crafting a new transportation funding bill that will include billions for infrastructure statewide and new programs that will change how we move around — and very likely how we pay for the privilege of doing so. The ability for advocates to influence what this package includes begins Tuesday, June 4th on a community college campus in north Portland.

All eyes are on Tuesday’s meeting because it’s the first stop on a statewide tour for members of the Joint Committee on Transportation whose members will decide on the contents of the package. This is where narratives that influence the final bill will first be heard. Activists plan a rally outside the meeting, while lawmakers, local leaders, transportation advocates, and insiders will come together to make their respective cases for what should be funded and why.

Expect to hear a lot of doom-and-gloom from ODOT officials amid a plea for new revenue, a call for all road users to pay their fair share, and an emphasis on funding freeway expansion megaprojects that are still unpaid for from the previous statewide bill passed in 2017.

The day will begin at noon for a select group of lawmakers and leaders who will take a tour of transportation facilities in the Portland metro area hosted by the Oregon Department of Transportation. Afterward there’s a roundtable discussion planned with members of the Region 1 Area Commission on Transportation (local ODOT advisory group), leaders from the region, business representatives, and transportation experts. Both of those events are by invite-only.

The main public hearing begins at 5:00 pm with a review of transportation funding by ODOT staff, followed by about two hours for public comment.

Prior to the public hearing at 5:00, nonprofit Sunrise PDX will host a really outside the event. Beginning at 4:00 pm in front of the Moriarty Auditorium at Portland Community College Cascade Campus (700 N Killingsworth), Sunrise and their allies will be on the bullhorn, waving signs, and connecting with other activists. “We’re advocating for an Oregon where people can ride the bus, take the train, ride a bike, or walk where they need to go,” says a Sunrise description of the event.

If ODOT staff and JCT members hear those cries from Sunrise, they’ll likely nod and feel good. That’s because, in their eyes, HB 2017 was a “green” bill due to its unprecedented (albeit tiny in comparison to road and maintenance expenditures) allotments for things like public transit and Safe Routes to School programs. And they consider the freeway expansion projects that gobbled up the lion’s share of funding in 2017 and continue to place ODOT in a precarious financial position to be projects that rank high on equity and bike/walk investment scores.

In a planning document circulated to JCT members, the Rose Quarter Improvement Project and the Interstate Bridge Replacement Project were both cited as examples of “equity-focused connections” and examples of how ODOT is “centering equity through infrastructure.”

In other words, don’t expect talk of re-allocating funding away from massive freeway projects. Instead, be prepared to hear how ODOT staff and some lawmakers justify continued investment in what they refer to as “unfinished business of HB 2017” — namely those I-5 expansion projects at the Rose Quarter and north into Vancouver, as well as I-205 near Oregon City.

Another thing we’re likely to hear are claims from ODOT staff and some JCT members that the current way we fund transportation in Oregon is unconstitutional and inequitable — but not in the way some of you might assume. There’s a growing narrative (based in part on legit statistics) inside ODOT that people who use heavier, less fuel-efficient vehicles pay too much for their use of the roads. You might recall my story on the 2023 Highway Cost Allocation Study where ODOT found that under the existing schedule of taxes and fee for drivers, lighter vehicles are projected to underpay their responsibility by 12.2% and heavy vehicle users over pay by 32.4% in the coming years. The study also found that people who drive vehicles that get less than 20 miles per gallon pay more than their fair share of user fees.

Oregon’s constitution requires that road users pay a fair share for roads. That has led lawmakers and ODOT staff down this path to create more taxes on people who use electric and fuel-efficient vehicles. The JCT planning document even went so far as mentioning e-bikes as one of the user classes that should be subject to more fees. After all, they created the $15 bicycle excise tax in 2017 and never received much pushback, so I won’t be surprised if they return to that same well this time around.

How ODOT and lawmakers decide to raise new revenue will be very interesting to watch. They won’t want to dampen adoption of EVs, hybrids or e-bikes, and a gas tax increase won’t be seen as very astute in the long-term. And since Governor Tina Kotek squashed tolling plans, the need for a new revenue stream that is politically viable, encourages the right type of behaviors, and raises a significant amount of money has never been greater.

Expect talk of a road usage charge (RUC) or VMT tax, taxes on electricity use, or a flat fee on EV (and e-bike?) purchases.

What you won’t hear is any accountability from lawmakers about how their past decisions to prioritize expensive freeway widening projects over everything else is a big reason why state transportation finances are in such dire straits. Hopefully the public testimony can give voice to that elephant in the room.

If you don’t make it to Tuesday’s meeting, there’s another chance to soak in these subjects at the Oregon Active Transportation Summit that kicks off Wednesday, June 5th. The welcome address of that event at 9:00 am includes a speech by Oregon Transportation Commissioner Alicia Chapman and its lunch plenary at 1:00 pm is titled, “The State of Transportation Funding in Oregon.”

For more on Tuesday’s hearing on the 2025 bill, see the event details on the JCT website.


Here’s the presentation ODOT will show at Tuesday’s event:

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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George
George
1 month ago

Seems like a lot of important topics related to revenue that may unfortunately overshadow things like safety and bike/ped funding. Thank you for reporting on this!

Fred
Fred
1 month ago

The study also found that people who drive vehicles that get less than 20 miles per gallon pay more than their fair share of user fees.

What a bizarro conclusion! Of course if you fund roads with taxes on gasoline, vehicles that use more gasoline pay more. This funding quandary is not a reason to let those vehicles off the hook.

I want to see a two-tier system:

  1. Every vehicle pays a per-mile fee to use the roads, including e-bikes and even (gasp!) regular bikes. BUT …
  2. The fee you pay is based upon vehicle weight. So the heaviest vehicles pay the highest per-mile rate, while people on bikes pay a very low rate.

And if you drive around with studded tires, you pay an added fee for every trip you make on those asphalt-shredding tires.

mh
mh
1 month ago

Weight x miles for every vehicle. For passenger vehicles, weight is the manufacturer’s stated weight, for the first registration you pay based on the average number of miles the average vehicle is driven, on registration renewal you reconcile and the vehicle owner either pays more or is reimbursed. I guarantee I’d be reimbursed. I’ve been proposing this for years, and have yet to see anyone think it’s a good idea.

My little Honda Fit is charged a penalty for being a small, light car. The fact that it is driven very little is ignored – they just assume I owe more because they assume I drive it the 10k or whatever the average miles per year is. We don’t. Let us pay for the wear we actually put on the roads.

I’d happily pay weight x miles for my bike commutes if they provide me some way to track my miles if all the oversized SUVs also pay weight x miles for their roadway damage. That would make me a much more serene commuter.

Pinot
Pinot
1 month ago

Mileage tax with weight factors and indexed to inflation makes sense, but incredibly difficult or invasive to administer. I think a gas tax is a good proxy for weight-mile:comment image cars generally weigh half as much as a truck and generally get twice the gas mileage.

The funding problem stems from non-inflation indexed revenue and no indexing for efficiency going up over time.

On the EV side, ODOT/DMV just need to adjust the OReGO system to make sense and be on par with a revised fuel tax.