DALLAS – Oregon must invest an additional $964 million per year over the next 20 years to maintain its existing road system and upgrade infrastructure to withstand a major earthquake, according to a blue-ribbon panel studying its transportation strategies.
Gregg Kantor, co-chairman of the Governor's Transportation Vision Panel and CEO of Northwest Natural Gas, told state lawmakers on Tuesday that Oregon's gasoline tax-based transportation funding system is losing ground to inflation and the increasing fuel efficiency of modern vehicles.
"The revenue stream that goes into our road fund is being stressed," Kantor told members of the state Senate Interim Committee on Business and Transportation.
"We've got to find a way to inject additional dollars into the transportation system that lets us at least stay in the mode of preserving the infrastructure we have," he said. "The cost of not doing that will be substantial if we let the system deteriorate further."
The panel's report said the state needs an additional $324 million per year to adequately maintain roads and bridges, $257 million per year to upgrade the seismic protection of 718 bridges and almost 1,200 potential landslide areas, $250 million to unplug 10 of the Oregon's biggest transportation bottlenecks, $108 million for transit, and $50 million for pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure.
"This is a call to action that is urgent and immediate," Kantor said. "We're at a time where we just have to act."
The financial needs are staggering, said state Sen. Lee Beyer, chairman of the committee and one of the 35 members of the transportation strategy panel created in 2014 by former Gov. John Kitzhaber.
"So the picture there is, if we really want to do the job it'll be about $1 billion a year more," Beyer said. "Ouch."
Oregon's state gasoline and diesel tax of 30 cents per gallon brings in about $550 million per year. The state will receive a total of $2.6 billion of federal transportation funding from the Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act through fiscal 2020, an average of $529 million per year.
Revenue options cited in the panel's report include increasing the gasoline tax or levying a new carbon tax, a per-mile road user charge, road and bridge tolls, and a tax on new car sales.
Each 1 cent increase in the fuel tax would generate an additional $28.3 million per year, while a 1% sales tax on vehicles would bring in $78 million per year.
Cities and counties have fewer options for raising the money needed for local and regional projects, Kantor said.
"Our cities and counties face a huge problem in lack of tools," Kantor said. "The cities and counties face it in spades, and their needs are enormous."
Alleviating traffic congestion in the Portland area would benefit transportation statewide, Kantor said.
"That's one of the uniting issues we heard in central, eastern, and western Oregon," he said. "It's the congestion people face getting their products into and out of Portland."
Voters in Portland last week approved a new gasoline tax of 10 cents per gallon. The tax, which is the highest local gasoline tax in the state, is expected to bring in an additional $64 million per year before it expires in late 2020.
The new tax will provide $36 million per year for road maintenance, with the remainder dedicated to bicycle and pedestrian projects near public schools.
The Portland Bureau of Transportation estimated in 2015 that the city needs to spend almost $120 million a year over the next 10 years to bring city streets to a good condition.