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Audit: Improve use of city transportation funds

Portland city auditors on Wednesday issued another in a series of critical audits of city transportation spending, noting that city transportation spending has been rising in recent years while spending on basic road maintenance has fallen.

“The city has no long-term plan to reconcile competing transportation priorities,” wrote City Auditor LaVonne Griffin-Valade. “As a result, new transportation projects have displaced core services such as maintaining streets.”

City officials have long complained about declining revenue from the gas tax, the city’s major source of discretionary transportation funds. Yet discretionary revenue has risen since the Great Recession ended, auditors wrote, and the city is still falling further behind in maintaining its roads and other elements of its $8 billion transportation system.

“Despite this increase in transportation revenue, spending for many transportation programs has been reduced, including street maintenance, traffic signals and structural maintenance,” auditors wrote.

Meanwhile spending has risen for streetcar operations, downtown marketing, and transit mall upkeep.

The Portland City Council, auditors wrote, “often relied on uncertain future revenue to fund the projects, such as new parking revenue from parking districts that had not yet been created, and development charges that were known to be volatile.”

The audit follows 2006 and 2008 warnings from city auditors that deferring street maintenance results in higher costs in the end.

Mayor Charlie Hales has been expecting the audit and has vowed to change city transportation priorities. Hales ousted former Portland Bureau of Transportation Director Tom Miller soon after taking office in January, and recently named an interim replacement, John “Toby” Widmer. Widmer came up through the ranks of the department and is known as an expert in maintenance issues.