Metro region needs $8 billion to fix highways, but state piggy bank tapped out

Highways in the Portland metropolitan area need nearly $8 billion in major improvements and repairs - but the state predicts it will have less than half the required money and does not have any plan for raising the rest.

According to figures compiled by the Oregon Department of Transportation, the work includes $1.5 billion for three additional lanes connecting Interstates 84 and 205, $1 billion as the state's share of the I-5 replacement bridge, $600 million for the Sunrise Corridor, connecting the new city of Damascus to Oregon Highway 224, and $35 million to improve the Sunset Highway and Glencoe Road interchange.

The figures were requested by state Sen. Bruce Starr, R-Hillsboro, vice chairman of the Senate Business, Transportation and Workforce Development Committee.

He presented them Wednesday morning at a breakfast meeting on the 2007 Oregon Legislature sponsored by the Portland Business Alliance, the membership organization representing many downtown businesses.

Starr told the gathering at the downtown Governor Hotel that the current legislative session needs to do something to close the funding gap. He said the committee is studying whether the public will support raising taxes or fees to help pay for the work.

'We need to make sure that the package is something that can be sold to the public,' said Starr, who worked for passage of the first and second phases of the Oregon Investment Act that provided $3 billion for highway bridge repairs in the 2003 and 2005 legislative sessions.

The figures presented by Starr were drawn from ODOT's State Highway Modernization Project, which identified the unfunded statewide total over the next five years at more than $9.3 billion.

Other major unfunded projects around the state include $330 million for the proposed Newberg-Dundee Bypass, $250 million to improve Oregon Highway 62 in Southern Oregon, $100 million to improve the connection between U.S. Highway 97 and U.S. Highway 20 in Central Oregon and $70 million for the reconstruction of the I-5/Beltline interchange in Lane County.

According to ODOT deputy director Doug Tindall, although the needed statewide work is estimated at $330 million a year over the next 25 years, only about $108 million a year is expected to be available, leaving an annual funding gap of around $222 million.

Not every project on the list has been approved for funding, however. Replacing the I-5 bridge between Portland and Vancouver, Wash., is still in the planning stage.

Although the cost of the so-called Columbia River Crossing currently is estimated at between $2 billion and $6 billion, the Metro Council and Clark County Commission have indicated an interest in studying a smaller supplemental bridge that could carry mass transit and local motor vehicle traffic between the two states.

Many of the figures provided to Starr also were preliminary and subject to change, based on engineering designs.

The figures presented by Starr do not include city street projects, such as the million of dollars worth of new and improved roads planned for the South Waterfront-development or the inner eastside Portland Streetcar extension.

Nor do they include any of the street planning reforms being considered by Metro for the updated Regional Transportation Plan scheduled to be approved next year, including the proposed street grid system suggested for all urban areas in the tricounty region.

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