County fine-tunes its vehicle fee idea

TribTown • $24 per year registration would finance bridge fixes

Multnomah County motorists might have to fork over an extra $24 a year for 20 years to replace the Sellwood Bridge and keep other Willamette River bridges up to snuff.

County commissioners appear to have settled on a $24-a-year price tag for a local vehicle registration fee, which would require voter approval on the May 20 ballot.

The fee is designed to give the county an ongoing bridge-maintenance fund, and lure matching moneyfrom federal, state and regional authorities.

Replacing or rebuilding the 82-year-old Sellwood Bridge, which could cost $260 million to $400 million or more, would be the highest priority for the newly named Bridge Safety Fund.

Local vehicle registration fees are permitted by state law, if voters consent.

In past weeks, county officials had talked about creating a local fee in the range of $15 to $27 a year.

Now the county will take the $24-a-year proposal to residents in a series of town hall meetings designed to answer questions and build public support.

Owners of trucks, buses and trailers would pay the same fee. Motorcyclists would pay $12 a year. Fees would be paid every two years, tacked onto state vehicle registration fees.

The vehicle fee could raise$264 million over 20 years. That could finance a $100 million bond for the Sellwood Bridge and leave $5.2 million a year for the other bridges.

The proposed fee comes as the Portland City Council this week will consider approving a street maintenance fee to help tackle the $422 million backlog in city transportation fixes.

Most city households would pay $4.54 per month if that fee is approved.

County officials must start finding 'champions' for the Sellwood Bridge among state and federal politicians, Multnomah County Chairman Ted Wheeler said Thursday.

Wheeler said he has lobbied U.S. Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which will play a key role in doling out federal bridge funding next year.

Wheeler also said Troutdale will benefit from another county priority: seeking $5 million in federal funding to replace three culverts along Beaver Creek, to restore fish passage for endangered species.

Two of the three culverts are in Troutdale - so far the lone community that has officially rejected Wheeler's bridge proposal.

There will be three town hall meetings in Portland to review the bridge-funding plan:

• 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday, Midland Library, 805 S.E. 122nd Ave.

• 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Feb. 11, Multnomah County Building boardroom, 501 S.E. Hawthorne Blvd.

• 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Feb. 19, North Portland Health Clinic, 9000 N. Lombard St.

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