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Its time to repair city roads

MY VIEW • Proposed street fee lauded by some, feared by others
by: JIM CLARK, Street repairs, such as a pothole on Northwest 15th Avenue, could be addressed if a new street maintenance fee is approved by the City Council. One business owner, however, says the proposed fee unduly taxes businesses and their customers.

Each day we go about our business, most of us probably assume the city's street system will be there, safe and efficient, indefinitely.

Unfortunately, that's wishful thinking.

Like the roof over your head or the smoke detector in your bedroom, the city's streets need periodic maintenance to ensure their safety.

It may be hard to get excited about our streets, but it's easy to grow concerned when they crumble away into potholes, back up into congestion, and endanger their users.

Like most Portlanders, I rely on our streets to get around every single day. My own experience tells me many of the city's streets need repair.

In my capacity as the city's transportation commissioner, I asked 89 stakeholders from a wide range of business, neighborhood and transportation interests to investigate the health of Portland's streets.

Big trucks, small trucks, neighborhoods, transit, bicycles, pedestrians, supermarkets, convenience stores, gas stations, office buildings, restaurants and so on … everybody who uses the streets came together.

I wondered if they experienced what I experience.

We met regularly for a year. We talked to all 33 of Portland's business associations. We held 21 neighborhood town hall meetings, which were advertised with mailers sent to every household and business in the city.

After all the analysis and input, we came to six major conclusions:

• Many of Portland's streets are in poor condition.

• The major arterials, our busiest streets, are vital to the city's well-being, and their poor condition weakens our economy and endangers lives.

• Too many people are killed or injured on Portland's streets due to obsolete and unsafe engineering street treatment.

• Existing funding sources are insufficient to pay for fixes due to inflation and increased costs for asphalt and related materials.

• New funding is needed, and the cost should be shared equitably among all who use the street system.

• Failing to invest in our streets now doesn't make the problem go away; it would only make it more expensive to fix later.

Based on these conclusions, the committee encouraged the City Council to adopt a street maintenance and safety fee. Households and businesses would share the cost equitably.

The fee's revenue would fund a defined list of projects established by the committee and vetted with the general public. A nongovernmental citizen committee would oversee project management and expenditures to ensure dollars are spent as recommended. Administrative costs would be capped.

Nobody enjoys a new fee. That's precisely why we dug into the issue so deeply and checked in with the general public so frequently.

Fortunately, however, history shows Portlanders know a smart investment when they see one. A smart investment costs a little bit now, but pays you back with interest over time.

The committee has done its work. It understands, for instance, that failure to act now would mean the cost of repairs grows by $9 million with each passing year.

It knows that tragedies such as the recent bicycle-truck collisions are avoidable with updated engineering. It recognizes that without action, delays in delivery due to congestion will cost our economy millions.

Tomorrow, the City Council will consider the committee's proposal. My council colleagues have an opportunity to affirm the terrific work composed by the committee membership.

I will encourage them to seize the opportunity to make this investment in a safer future for Portland's streets, and, consequently, for a safer Portland.

Sam Adams is a city commissioner and candidate for mayor.