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Street fee will pay off in safety

Is it worth $4.54 per residential household each month — or less than $75 for a typical business — to save lives, time and money by upgrading Portland streets? For Portlanders familiar with the decaying status of the local street system, it ought to be a relatively easy question to answer. In the past two decades, Portland has fallen woefully behind in its ability to keep up with needed street repairs and maintenance. Without a new, ongoing source of revenue, there’s little hope of ever catching up. That’s why the Portland City Council — led in this case by Commissioner Sam Adams, who is in charge of transportation — is considering a street maintenance and safety fee to fund road improvements. Given the enormity of Portland’s transportation needs and months of extensive public involvement that the fee already has received, we believe the City Council should listen to further public comment in the next few weeks, tweak the proposal if necessary and then move promptly to implement the fee. Safety, maintenance needs are huge New fees never are popular with homeowners or business owners. But before local citizens and businesspeople focus too intently on what the street maintenance and safety fee would cost them, they also ought to consider the high price of the status quo. An 89-person task force — recruited by the city and known as the Safe, Sound and Green Streets Stakeholder Committee — studied just that question before coming to its recommendation for more funding. Among other things, that committee concluded that one-third of Portland’s busiest streets have pavement in poor condition; the city’s overall street-maintenance backlog grows by $9 million each year; lives are being lost due to lack of funding for safety projects; and the cost of congestion is a major drag on the region’s economy. To address these and other pressing concerns, the committee looked at 23 possible ways to raise revenue for transportation projects. The street fee was determined to be the most equitable. One advantage of the fee is that it requires everyone who uses the street system, including bus riders and bicyclists, to pay for its upkeep. Fee is a reasonable option The street maintenance fee would appear as a $4.54 per month charge on a residence’s sewer and water bill. The charge to businesses would vary. Businesses that generate large numbers of car trips would pay more, while other businesses would pay less. For three-quarters of the city’s commercial establishments, the fee would be under $75 per month, and they could reduce that amount if they are located near a transit line or if they have employees who take alternative transportation to work. While the fee is a modest one, it would produce about $24 million a year that would be used to upgrade Portland streets in poor condition, improve safety at high-crash intersections, synchronize traffic signals, and provide better bicycle and pedestrian corridors. Nineteen Oregon cities — including Lake Oswego, Tigard, Wilsonville and Tualatin — already have adopted local methods of raising money for transportation. They recognize that the Legislature, which has not increased the state’s gas tax since 1993, may at some time provide additional funding but will never fully address local transportation needs. For the sake of Portlanders’ livability and safety, we believe the City Council should move to enact this fee and begin the long process of once again investing in and improving the city’s street system.