Transportation plan: Portland to pay more, get more

Proposal to be released in Salem Wednesday afternoon

Transportation leaders agree that Portland area congestion is hurting the economy of the entire state. (Portland Tribune)

PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — A panel of transportation experts previewed the new funding proposal scheduled to be unveiled at the 2017 Oregon Legislature on Wednesday morning.

The transportation funding proposal will be released Wednesday afternoon. Appearing before the Columbia Corridor Association in the morning, the panel did not announce the total amount. But they said that Portland area leaders have agreed to pay for half of the cost of three major freeway projects — a dramatic change from previous funding plans that encouraged negotiators at the State Capitol to move forward.

“In the past, some legislators have felt that Portland gets more than its fair share. By agreeing to pay for half of the projects regionally, that changed the discussion,” said Andy Shaw, regional affairs manager for Metro, the regional elected government.

Shaw said the package proposes to spend between $750 million to $1 billion on three projects that are creating congestion bottlenecks that hurt the entire state’s economy. Rebuilding the I-5/I-84 interchange in the Rose Quarter is estimated at $400 million. Widening I-205 from the Abernathy Bridge to the Stafford interchange is estimated at $450 million. And widening sections of Highway 217 is estimated at $150 million.

According to TriMet Executive Director of Public Affairs Bernie Bottomly, the state would pay half the cost of the projects from money generated by increasing the gas tax and vehicle registration fees. The regional share would be paid one of two ways. The Legislature would either increase the gas tax and vehicle registration fees in the region, or voters in the region would asked to pass a funding measure.

“We would prefer the Legislature impose the regional costs because it would be simpler. But if they don’t, we’ve agreed to go to the voters,” said Bottomly, explaining that the agreement was worked out by Metro councilors Bob Stacey and Shirley Craddick.

Regional transportation leaders are also planning to ask voter to help fund the new MAX line proposed in the Southwest Corridor Project from Portland to Tualatin through Tigard. The project is estimated at $2.4 billion, with half expected to come from the federal government. If the Legislature does not impose the freeway improvement costs on the region, all four projects could be included in a measure submitted to voters, Bottomly said.

The other panelists were Oregon Department of Transportation Director Matt Garret and Portland Bureau of Transportation Director Leah Treat.

The transportation funding plan to be released Wednesday afternoon is also expected to include a number of other revenue raising proposals, including a statewide payroll tax of 1/10th of 1 percent to fund transit, an excise tax on bicycle sales, and approval to impose tolls and congestion pricing fees on existing freeways and bridges, the panelists said.

The package might be a tough sale, according to some of the questions and comments from those at the Airport Sheraton breakfast. A number of people complained that more than twice as much spending is planned for a new light rail line in the Portland area than on freeway improvements. One person asked why voters in outer Multnomah and Clackamas counties would considering voting for such a measure. And the idea of tolls and congestion pricing charges drew a mixed response.

“Those are the same issues being debated in Salem,” Garrett said.

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