Citizens must step up to plan, fund future projects
Marge West and her crew know the challenges involved in paving a highway as traffic passes by at 55 miles per hour. Geoff Bowyer and his team of dispatchers in the Traffic Management Operations Center know when a car stalls on the Marquam Bridge.
Maintenance Supervisor Jim McNamee and his crews know how quickly driving conditions can change on the highways surrounding Mount Hood. They know because they have years of experience dealing with transportation issues.
Whether it's clearing snow in the mountains or helping a stalled vehicle on a busy urban freeway, these are just a few of the men and women of the Oregon Department of Transportation.
We also maintain the existing system of roads and are constantly striving to enhance and improve Oregon's transportation network. Employees are out paving, striping, and installing new signs and equipment daily.
In recent years, ODOT crews have worked extensively with private-sector design and construction firms to build new bridges, add lanes to existing highways, and construct new interchanges and bicycle and pedestrian facilities.
We also are planning for the future. ODOT staff members carefully plan projects to ensure that taxpayer money is effectively invested in a system that supports a healthy economy and livable communities.
Part of that planning is aimed at creating an interconnected transportation system that efficiently moves people and freight not just on roads, but also on rail, transit, waterways and by air.
Yet despite ODOT employees' long hours and hard work, the future of Oregon's transportation system is in your hands, not theirs.
According to a recently released Congressional Budget Office projection, the Federal Highway Trust Fund, which funds many transportation projects in Oregon, will be insolvent by 2009 if Congress does not increase funding.
The state gasoline tax has not increased since 1993 (the state gas tax increased from 22 cents per gallon to 24 cents per gallon on Jan. 1, 1993).
Oregonians are facing some difficult questions. Should we consider new sources of revenue, like tolling and vehicle mileage fees? Should we raise the gasoline tax? Should we raise registration fees?
The one certainty we face is that the cost to build and maintain roads and bridges will continue to increase. In 2006 alone, the cost of highway, street and bridge construction raw materials like asphalt, concrete and steel increased by an average of 12.3 percent, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics Producer Price Index.
Prior generations of Oregonians faced such questions and responded by creating the first gas tax in the country in 1919. (Data comes from a chronology put together by the ODOT History Center). The system they paid for and built is aging.
Within the next 20 years, an estimated 1 million more people will be moving to the greater Portland metro area, according to the Metro Council: 2000-2030 Regional Forecast.
We have proven that ODOT crews will be there to respond when needed. However, the questions about how best to adequately fund transportation projects and operations in the state must be answered by the citizens of Oregon.
In the coming months you will be hearing more about transportation funding, the choices that must be made and how those choices will shape Oregon's future.
What will your response be?