The city of Tigard should not alter a 3-cents-per-gallon gas tax that was imposed last April to pay for improvements at the highly congested intersection of Pacific Highway, Greenburg Road and Main Street - even though the tax is collecting less money than expected.
While fixing this noted transportation bottleneck is important, public trust is even more important.
The City Council approved the local gas tax in late 2006 to pay for an estimated $4.5 million in intersection improvements to relieve everyday traffic congestion that stalls Pacific Highway traffic at that location.
The problem is that the city could only estimate the amount of gasoline being sold at Tigard service stations. And in the process, the city over-estimated the amount of gas tax collections it would be take in each month by as much as 15 to 25 percent. Over time, city officials now say the gas tax will collect only $3.5 million before it expires at the end of 2011, not the $4.5 million needed to fix the Pacific Highway bottleneck.
City staff will consider a variety of options over the next few months before the council makes a decision. Options include extending the life of the tax past 2011; reducing the scope of the intersection improvement; or even raising the tax rate to make up the difference.
None of these options are palatable. Tigard officials should follow through on what they originally told citizens they would do.
We understand that the problem occurs as city officials could only engage in good-faith estimates as to how much gasoline is sold at service stations located within city limits. But it was with those estimates in hand that the City Council approved the 3-cent gas tax and also committed to ending the tax Dec. 31, 2011, or when $5 million is collected -whichever comes first.
To change the tax rate, lengthen its collection period or reduce the scope of the project throws into question the integrity, follow-through and the capabilities of Tigard City Hall. These are attributes that the public should have confidence in and expect to consistently receive at a high level. By changing the gas tax rules at this point, Tigard city officials would suffer a loss of citizen confidence and incur taxpayer resentment.
Instead, city officials should stay the course on the tax and work with county, state, regional and federal agencies to make up the $1 million difference that the gas tax will not generate as planned.
There are merits and precedents for this approach. For one, Tigard has waited well more than a decade to have the county's MSTIP program fund a fix of the equally congested intersection of Hall Boulevard and Pacific Highway. The county owes Tigard something for this great delay. A bit of help fixing the nearby Greenburg Road intersection would be in order. Metro and state officials also have a stake in getting this interchange fixed as well. Pacific Highway is a state road and carries a major share of the regional and Northwest Oregon economy. Besides, cars and trucks routinely getting stuck in congestion in Tigard are very bad for Metro's and the state's efforts to reduce pollution and improve the environment.
The city of Tigard has a responsibility to offset the funding difference. How the City Council chooses to spend the budget is all about choosing priorities and trade-offs. Given that just about every survey of local residents ranks concern over Pacific Highway congestion as a top priority, we think the city can come up with some money from the general fund.
How the City Council and other government partners solve this funding shortfall will say a lot to voters and taxpayers about the ability of all governments to accountably, transparently and successfully do what they say they will.
Tigard should stay the course on the gas tax and get the intersection work done as promised.