Oregon may need to pay $110M for fed highway work

Congressional stalemate may cost the state

A road construction crew in Portland, June 6, 2013 (KOIN 6 News)
A road construction crew in Portland, June 6, 2013 (KOIN 6 News)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN 6) – Oregon might have to pony up as much as $110 million this year to cover the federal share of highway work caught up in the deadlock in Washington over transportation and taxes.

The government has told states that in August it’ll start rationing transportation aid.

For years, gasoline tax revenues have been falling short of covering transportation spending – more-efficient vehicles use less fuel – and Congress is divided over what to do.

How this will affect Oregon is an easy question to answer, ODOT officials said. There will be lost jobs, and projects like the widening of Highway 26 won’t get done.

They want more than a temporary fix that they say would just be lawmakers kicking the can down the road, so to speak.

These are real concerns for ODOT.

“This is all about keeping people at work,” said ODOT’s Dave Thompson. “If those projects stop, those people’s jobs would end, at least temporarily, until they start again. That’s not good.”

ODOT said they would be forced to loan the federal government between $50 million and $100 million just to keep going on projects already underway.

And, they said, they would not be able to start any new projects.

“2015 is up for grabs, unless Congress acts,” Thompson said.

Other projects at risk include widening the I-5 exit ramp at Lower Boones Ferry, Highway 217 improvements and dozens more projects.

Federal lawmakers have known for years this funding was running out and have done nothing.

But lawmakers who spoke with KOIN 6 News are confident something will get done soon, if only a temporary fix.

“I’m very confident again,” said Rep. Greg Walden. “The proof is in the committee. Today a bill passed on a voice vote unanimously.”

Rep. Earl Blumenauer said, “People don’t want to face up to the fact that this is a hard issue and you’re going to either have to put in more money or have to dramatically cut back on the programs.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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