Lawmakers pass $5.3B plan to upgrade OR roads, transit

The bill now heads to Gov. Kate Brown

Dr. Jennifer Dill with PSU said Oregon can only do so much with its roads because projects to improve or expand are expensive. February 5, 2017, (KOIN)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A $5.3 billion plan to modernize Oregon’s transportation and public transit systems over the next decade has passed the Oregon Legislature with bipartisan support after a final 22-7 vote in the state Senate on Thursday.

It addresses five broad areas of concern throughout the state: traffic congestion, alternate roadway options, ongoing investments for maintenance, safety of existing infrastructure and accountability over public spending.

Under the bill, parts of Highway 217 will be expanded and bridges will be fixed.

ODOT will look at congested areas and how to free them up.

The bill would also give cities and counties money to fix the roads and expand off-road bike paths.

Rep. Cliff Bentz, co-vice chair of the bill, said, “Those kinds of improvements are extraordinarily expensive.”

However, both the House and Senate agreed these changes and repairs will be worth the extra costs taxpayers will have to pay.

To pay for the projects, the bill increases gas taxes by 10% and vehicle title and registration fees and creates new taxes on employees’ paychecks and automobile sales, a surcharge on bicycle sales as well as highway tolls in the Portland metro sometime in the next few years. It also establishes a $12 million annual rebate program for those who buy eco-friendly cars.

Bentz said, “They can either spend their money, in time, sitting at their cars waiting or they can spend money to build an additional lane or prompt people to use roads in a more efficient way.”

Sen. Lee Beyer, who helped write the transportation bill, is determined to help improve congestion..

“The way you’re going to improve congestion is some expansion of facilities such as on 217. On the west side, we’ll add some capacity and along the way, fix the 205, the Abernathy Bridge,” Beyer said.

The governor’s office told KOIN 6 News Brown is in favor of the bill and is expected to sign it soon.

Brown released a statement in regards to the bill,

The transportation package was one my top priorities and I am proud of the legislators and stakeholders who came around the needs of our state transportation system. This was a two-year bipartisan, collaborative process of talking to Oregonians on the ground and negotiating a plan that grows our economy and jobs, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and invests in our roads, trails, and transit. It is a model for what we can accomplish when we put the needs of Oregonians first.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.