Washington County has invested more heavily in its roads than most of its peers — and the result has been a level of economic development that hasn’t been duplicated elsewhere in the state.

In coming months, county commissioners will consider whether to enact a $22-per-year vehicle registration fee that also would be dedicated to roads. We believe the fee is justified and would be accepted by the public if commissioners are able to link it clearly to economic development and livability.

The Oregon Legislature opened the door to a local registration fee in 2009, when it gave large counties the authority to levy such a fee in addition to the state’s existing vehicle-registration fee. So far, only Multnomah County has walked through that door. It established a local fee for the purpose of replacing the Sellwood Bridge. Clackamas County tried to follow suit, but its proposal — also targeted for the Sellwood Bridge — was shot down by citizens who referred it to the ballot.

Washington County’s fee has advantages over the fees that were proposed or adopted in its neighboring counties. In this county, the fee would not be dedicated to a solitary bridge, but would benefit road maintenance projects throughout the county. Under the current proposal, 60 percent of the money raised would go to the county and the other 40 percent would be distributed to cities.

Commissioners now are testing the concept with the public. A scientific poll will be conducted by DHM Research, and an online survey is available on the county website. County residents, we believe, are likely to support the fee if they are convinced it will be used only for transportation, as is required by law.

We don’t necessarily see the need for a public vote on a fee of such minimal size, but the input the county receives from the public will go a long way toward determining if such a vote is advisable. Members of the public can participate easily in this decision by signing up for the Westside Voices surveys at These surveys give residents a chance to influence many important decisions — including the matter of whether they want to pay a little more for vehicle registration in return for better roads.

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