Rep. Rich Vial talks transportation issues, outcome of recent legislative session
Oregon Rep. Rich Vial is clear about one thing – he's learned more in the five months he's been an Oregon legislator than in 35 years of practicing law.
On Aug. 1, the Scholls resident, who represents the sprawling Oregon House District 26 (which includes Sherwood), told those gathered at the Sherwood Center for the Arts that finding solutions to the gridlock surrounding the area has been key during his brief tenure in Salem.
"For me, transportation was a real key element of why I wanted to run," said Vial, who was elected to the Oregon Legislature in November.
Because of heavy traffic, Vial said he often takes the old farm-to-market backroads when he travels to the Oregon State Capitol instead of traveling from Tualatin-Sherwood Road to I-5, which cuts about 45 minutes off his commute time.
Although Vial said he's been somewhat discouraged by the partisanship he's seen in Salem, he also said he's tried to work in harmony on both sides of the aisle.
"Something I've tried to do is temper the dialogue in the Capitol," said the lifelong Republican. "I have great respect for the folks in the party I'm not registered in."Vial, who is on the Education Committee, the Transportation Policy Committee and the Judiciary Committee, said an average day consists of numerous short meetings with lobbyists, noting that there are often 15-hour days during the heighth of the session. All this for an annual salary of $24,000.
"It's the least amount of money I've made since I was 14 years old," he pointed out.
Vial said the legislature recently passed a $5.3 billion transportation package to be spent over a 10-year period, a measure that in the Portland area will address making an investment in relieving the bottleneck on Highway 217, widen I-205 and make improvements on I-5 in the Rose Quarter area along I-5.
Those transportation improvements will come in part as a result of raising the gas tax, which hasn't gone up since 1992. The tax means prices at the pump will increase by 4 cents per gallon in 2018, followed by 2-cent per gallon increases through 2022.
One of the more controversial parts of funding the package will come from an employee-paid payroll tax that comes out to about 39 cents per week for a minimum wage worker. In addition, other funding would come from raising car registration fees by $56 and a $15 per bike excise tax on any bicycle costing over $200, a measure aimed at adult bicycles and not children's bikes.
At the same time, Washington County will receive $13 million in state funding, a portion of which will be used to improve the intersection at Highway 99W and Elwert Road including construction of a roundabout in front of the new high school.
Meanwhile, Vial talked about the massive growth planned for the area, including the future Sherwood West (whose concept plan contains 126 tax lots but doesn't contain a hard numbers on the specific number of residents) as well as the 3,744 homes planned for River Terrace at Roy Rogers Road and Scholls Ferry Road in Tigard along with 3,430 homes slated for the South Cooper Mountain adjacent to the new Beaverton High School. Those latter two projects alone are expected to add 22,000 to 25,000 residents to the area, said Vial.
During his short legislative stint, Vial has also championed resurrection of a bill that would build something similar to the so-called "Westside Bypass," a 1990s plan that shot down long ago but whose new version would have made commutes shorter from the Portland metro area to Hillsboro or Forest Grove.
The bill, which would have created special districts and would have allowed for toll roads, died in committee.
Later in his town hall meeting, Vial took a variety of questions, many of them from audience members wearing Our Indivisible Revolution Sherwood T-shirts.
Last winter, the group's main facilitators, Patrick and Maddie Gavel-Briggs, organized a rally in Cannery Square Plaza to protest attempts by Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
Questions ranged from why corporations don't pay their fair share of taxes to whether developers of new subdivisions are paying for the infrastructure needed to support the influx of new residents.
Responding to the latter question, Vial said developers do pay for development through the collection of system development charges, noting that for every structure built, developers pay about $20,000 in so-called SDCs with the money going toward road, sewer and park construction or improvements.
He pointed out that those charges locally are the envy of other jurisdictions throughout Oregon, noting that "we're lucky in Washington County because the rest of the state hasn't caught up with SDCs."