Oregon has choices. So does Portland. But the real question is not whether those choices will be made, but when will they be offered?

Last week's bridge collapse during a Minneapolis rush hour underscores the requirement for Oregon and the Portland area to choose to invest in highways and bridges before - not after - a crisis occurs here.

People should not die, the economy should not falter and livability should not suffer because Oregon's leaders fail to present the opportunity to make the state's infrastructure, including highways and bridges, safer from the mounting danger of decay and congestion.

Unfortunately in America, leadership and investment all too sadly follow tragedy and crisis.

The examples are many and graphic. National security was greatly heightened following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Federal emergency response and deteriorating levees became an issue after Hurricane Katrina. Investments in alternative fuels are increasing, but are doing so in the face of advancing global warming.

Safety and security endangered

Oregon, like many states, is at increased infrastructure risk due to its failure to invest, even while the pressures of population growth and the economy continue to mount.

Last week's tragedy in Minneapolis may have occurred even if that state had invested in roads, highways and bridges. We may never know. But we do know that in the last two years, the governor of Minnesota three times had rejected legislation to spend money on infrastructure, including two proposed increases in the state gas tax.

Minnesota's infrastructure needs may be worse than this state's. But while Oregonians should care about the safety of others, their primary interest should be about their own safety, the security of the local economy and livability.

It is estimated that deferred maintenance required on the Multnomah County bridges crossing the Willamette River totals $325 million. What's really scary is that there is no financial or leadership plans whatsoever to deal with the backlog - including the $230 million (or more) replacement of the weight-restricted Sellwood Bridge.

Oregon must act sooner

In Portland, Commissioner Sam Adams, who is a champion of infrastructure investment, says the city's unmet transportation needs total $422 million and mounts each year.

Adams has been meeting with citizens, businesses and neighborhood groups to discuss ideas to improve funding of city streets and bridges, but it is unclear whether the City Council will go along with any idea.

Meanwhile, Metro is examining the possibility of a regional transportation funding measure, but initial indications show that such a concept holds scant promise.

Statewide, the Oregon Legislature and Gov. Ted Kulongoski chose not to consider funding for roads and highways to be a priority of the 2007 legislative session, but have vowed future action.

While such indications of leadership are appreciated, Oregon hasn't increased its gas tax since 1993. That means there has been inadequate money to improve highway infrastructure in a comprehensive way.

And even if the 2009 Legislature acts, it won't be until 2010 or 2011 before new dollars begin flowing to address old needs.

How long can Oregon wait for leadership and the opportunity to choose to invest in safety and infrastructure for its economy and livability? No longer.

Certainly not until after a tragedy strikes, as it did last week in Minneapolis.

Portland Tribune editorial board

The Tribune publishes editorials on local and regional issues every Tuesday and Friday.

Steve Clark - president, Portland Tribune and Community Newspapers Inc.

503-546-0714; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Dwight Jaynes -executive editor, Portland Tribune

503-546-5151; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Mark Garber - vice president, Community Newspapers Inc.

503-492-5130; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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