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Transportation vision group nearly done with work

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP FILE PHOTO - The panel tasked with recommending long-term strategies to improve the state's transportation system has almost completed its work — as congestion continues increasing.The Oregon Governor’s Transportation Vision Panel has finished most of its work, with final subcommittee meetings held last week. The exception is the transportation finance subcommittee, which is tentatively scheduled to meet in Salem 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Jan. 8.

Former Gov. John Kitzhaber formed the panel a year ago to recommend long-term strategies to improve the state’s transportation system, but it stopped meeting after his resignation. Gov. Kate Brown reactivated the committee this fall, and asked members to also identify short-term solutions to pay for better highways and other infrastructure.

Sam Haffner, an ODOT employee and project manager for the panel, is working with the group’s co-chairs Gregg Kantor and Tammy Baney to compile recommendations from all of the subcommittees, with the exception of finance. Kantor is president and CEO of NW Natural; Baney is a Deschutes County commissioner and chair of the Oregon Transportation Commission. The panel will present its recommendations at regional forums around the state from January through March.

In the meantime, four Oregon lawmakers said last week that they need to begin negotiations now, if they are going to pass legislation to fund transportation in 2017.

The lawmakers — state Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose; Rep. John Davis, R-Wilsonville; Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario; and Rep. Caddy McKeown, D-Coos Bay — were on a panel at the Oregon Business Plan Leadership Summit in Portland on Dec. 14.

The four lawmakers were all part of a bipartisan group dubbed the “Gang of Eight,” who met with Gov. Kate Brown during the 2015 legislative session to hammer out a transportation funding proposal. Lawmakers and the governor scrapped the proposal in June, after Oregon Department of Transportation director Matthew Garrett revealed during a public hearing on the plan that it would result in a smaller carbon emissions reduction than originally projected.

Brown also said on Monday that she based her decision to defer action on a transportation package in part on the plan by the petroleum and trucking industries to seek a 2016 ballot measure to repeal the state’s low-carbon fuel standard.

On Monday, the lawmakers said the short timeline in 2015 made it difficult to negotiate a proposal with broad support, and one of the lessons was to set aside more time to develop the next plan.

Davis said he was discouraged to hear people suggest the Legislature wait until 2017 to negotiate a transportation funding package. “I think the first thing is, we start,” Davis said.

Davis, whose suburban constituents deal with traffic congestion during their commutes, said lawmakers need to start putting forward straw proposals, so that various interests have time to debate the pros and cons.

McKeown also said the Legislature needs to invest time in negotiating a transportation package. “I think we’re going to need that year to be able to bring something together that would be palatable to our constituents,” McKeown said.

Johnson said that in order to produce successful transportation funding bills, the state must continue to include representatives from around the state.

“It was in that spirit of collaboration that we worked pretty diligently,” Johnson said. “Time was not our friend and we eventually ran out of time ... It was collegial, it was cooperative. We were there as Oregonians.”

“I think it’s time for all of us to get back in the room” and start negotiating, said Johnson, whose constituents are currently dealing with storm damage to the transportation system.

Bentz said a key goal for lawmakers is to craft a proposal that has broad support and a minimal chance of being referred to the ballot.

“That takes time,” Bentz said. Bentz is trying to line up funding to repair the route to a diatomaceous earth mine in his district that, together with the processing plant, employs more than 100 people.