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State must keep moving

My View • Economy rolls along with transportation investments
by: L.E. BASKOW, Lawmakers are working to ensure that Oregon’s transportation needs — whether at the city, county or state level — are met, which ensures a healthy economy and our ability to compete with neighboring states.

Ensuring a bright future for Oregon requires wise investment in the infrastructure that fuels economic growth. Strong schools, vibrant cities, family-wage jobs and healthy communities are all directly tied to an economy capable of generating the revenues required to meet the needs of our citizens. This is especially true in an income tax-dependent state like Oregon. When the economic engine is fueled with sustainable growth, revenues increase, and it sputters when income generation declines. Transportation investment is the key than can unlock Oregon’s growth potential and help ensure the vitality of our state for future generations. Investing in our ability to move goods and services to market while reducing traffic congestion will allow businesses to profitably expand and meet the cost-sensitive realities of today’s global economy. But Oregon’s ability to compete is eroding rapidly while our neighboring states are quickly lengthening their stride in this competitive marketplace. Recent studies have indicated that Oregon is the nation’s ninth most transportation-dependent state. Furthermore, almost 400,000 jobs, or one in every five, is transportation-dependent. Yet we have done woefully little to protect our economic base or expand opportunities. Transportation investments traditionally have been based on user-pay assessments. So how does Oregon fare compared with our neighbors who are seeking to attract business investment? Washington has made a huge investment in transportation in the past 36 months, and now both Washington and California users invest nearly three times more in transportation maintenance, preservation and modernization than does Oregon. Even Idaho and Nevada more than double Oregon’s investment. Investing in transportation is the research and development component of our state’s business model, but we our losing out to our competitors. Fortunately, we can still get back in the game. Our state’s major business organizations have targeted transportation as a major issue for the 2009 legislative session. Gov. Ted Kulongoski also has indicated it is one of his top priorities. The livability of our communities and the health of our economy are dependent on our success in addressing this issue with a comprehensive, statewide solution. Transportation investment is a bipartisan issue. As chairman and vice chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, we have worked collaboratively with our colleagues over the past four legislative sessions to build Oregon’s future. The Oregon Transportation Investment Acts of 2001-03 are pumping more than $2.5 billion into repairing our aging bridges and meeting related transportation needs. The Connect Oregon legislation in 2005-07 is bolstering investment in rail, aviation and marine projects statewide. But our state highway system and local and regional road networks continue to lack the resources necessary to meet the needs of Oregonians. Our state highway system already is estimated to be $500 million behind in meeting basic maintenance and preservation needs. City and county roads are reaching a critical cause for concern. Portland alone says it is $400 million short on maintaining the existing infrastructure. Additionally, federal road funds designed to compensate for the loss of timber revenues in most Oregon counties are expected to evaporate in the next few years. For many counties, these funds account for more than half of all road maintenance and preservation budgets. Some rural roads already are being turned back to gravel because county budgets cannot support maintaining the existing asphalt. We must act and act quickly. Members of the Oregon Legislature are working in this interim to develop a comprehensive plan to ensure Oregon’s economy can continue to thrive. We hope all Oregonians will become engaged in this important issue and that together we can build a strong and vibrant economy for decades to come. Sens. Rick Metsger, D-Mount Hood, and Bruce Starr, R-Hillsboro, serve as chairman and vice chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee.