As gas tax dries up, Washington County roads worsen
Officials say lack of funding makes maintenance difficult
All those hybrid and electric cars on the road may be good for the environment, but theyre doing a number on county roads, according to Washington County officials.
The Washington County Department of Land Use and Transportation is charged with maintaining the countys many roads and bridges, but has been unable to keep up with needs over the last few years, thanks to a budget shortfall that Andrew Singelakis, director of the department, blames on an influx of environmentally-friendly cars.
Were seeing a decline in our road conditions, he said. We see it on annual basis. Its gradually declining.
The money to maintain Washington Countys many roads, bridges, culverts, traffic signals and street lights largely comes from state and county gas taxes, but county officials say that the influx of hybrid and electric cars which use little to no gasoline have meant fewer gas tax dollars, making it difficult to keep up with the countys aging, and expanding, road system.
There is a lack of awareness by the general public about what goes into it all, Singelakis said.
Singelakis estimates the county needs an additional $11 million a year just to keep up with maintenance.
As they motor along Washington Countys roads, most drivers likely havent noticed a deterioration in their surfaces, Singelakis said, but it is happening.
There is a backlog of maintenance needs that are not readily visible to the public, Singelakis said. There is a lot going on under the road that people cant see. Just because it looks OK doesnt mean that it is. It could easily fall into a state of disrepair.
Thats what happened on Timber Road last winter. A bridge on the rural Washington County road near Gales Creek washed out after heavy flooding in the area. A school bus driver drove over the road and called in to county road crews, warning that the condition of the road seemed off when they drove over it.
By the time crews arrived, the road had been washed away in the flood.
If we had been on top of our maintenance, that wouldnt have happened, Singelakis said. We will be seeing more and more instances like that if we dont address the funding shortfall.
Its not just roads, Singelakis said. More than 40 percent of Washington Countys 184 bridges are currently categorized as deficient. More than a dozen are weight limited, meaning they arent able to handle the weight of heavier traffic.
Officials in Salem are debating a new transportation package which could change how maintenance funding is paid for, Singelakis said, but there is no easy fix.
Only certain pots of money can be used to pay for certain things, Singelakis said. Its important for the public to understand the complexities of the issue.
Cities and counties rate their roads on a scale of 1 to 100. Known as the pavement condition index, or PCI, counties are able to keep track of how well their roads are doing.
Currently, Washington County rates their roads at about 77 percent. A fair number, Singelakis said, but that number is on the decline.
Once it gets down into the low 70s, youre looking at roads needing to be completely reconstructed, Singelakis said. We dont want it to get that low.
We needed this addressed two years ago, Singelakis added. Its an ongoing issue. The sooner this is fixed, the better.